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12.17.06

Novell, The Eight Hundred Pound Penguin

Posted in Deals, Fork, GNU/Linux, IBM, Novell, Office Suites, OpenOffice, Red Hat at 10:20 pm by Shane Coyle

Stafford Masie, Novell South Africa country manager, speaking at the recent CITI Forum, gives a great deal of background on how Novell came to be a Linux company.

Interestingly, according to Masie, after realizing that they couldn’t open-source Netware, Novell apparently considered acquiring Red Hat at the time, as well as the possibility of forking Slackware before deciding to acquire Ximian, and subsequently SUSE.

Now, let me take you some… through some history of Novell, because I can really articulate this organically, I came back to the country end of 2003, before that I was actually at Novell headquarters, and I was part of a team that did the due diligence to get Novell into this Linux space.

So, the reason I like standing up here and talking about open source and Novell, etc because when I was in the US, I was actually part of that team, and I humbly say so, y’know not arrogantly.

And, its nice to see these things play out, because I understand exaclty what Novell’s commitments are. I know exactly why Novell is in this game, its not because I’ve read some marketing literature or I’ve gone to some orientation course as the new country manager for South Africa, therefore I’m here.

I was actually part of the team that looked at this. I know exactly why, what our conviction is and why we are in this space. We fundamentally believe that the open source way of building software is a better way of delivering software, that is why we are in the open source world. It is a better way, the way software gets built, the way this crowd becomes.. is wise and is becoming wiser, and the capabilities of this open source crowd, is a phenomena that I think stems… this is just a fruit of a broader phenomena I think things like podcasting, things like blogging, things like social networking… these are things that are moving so fast, and really it is because of Tim O’Reilly’s little phrase, he’s given it that phrase and I use it often now: the architecture of participation is there.

And, this architecture of participation allows us now to collaborate worldwide and do things that are amazing, and I think that open source software is but one fruit of this architecture of participation, so when Novell looked at this whole thing… we realized it had caught up to Netware, and in certain circumstances was surpassing Netware and… there was other aspects of it that looked very very interesting

So when we went to the Board, and we discussed with the executives at Novell, we said we have to get into this, for no other reason but the fact we’ve got to adopt this method of building code, we need to look at it very very carefully, this collaborative method of building of a software product is an interesting method, and it seems to be better, and it seems to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before because it gives people the capability to themselves change things and it creates a platform for innovation and for excellence, its an excellence model, not a commercial model.

So, we’re in open source not for commercial reasons only, we want to be a participant, we want to contribute, and I think we’ve proven that as Novell, and one of the things I didn’t do and now realize I should have done, I should have actually listed all of the open source projects that we participate in… y’know we are very large contributor to OpenOffice, and you’ll see some of the things we are now doing to OpenOffice which now some bloggers are saying we’re forking OpenOffice, which is not true, and I think some sanity is coming back to some of that reasoning…

There’s alot we do to the kernel, we’ve got alot of kernel developers… we’ve got alot of file system guys, the Samba team- the project team, the Samba project team actually works for Novell. I know the recent press releases about what the Samba team thinks about the Microsoft thing doesn’t depict them working for us, but y’know what? they actually do. They used to work for HP, but now they work within us. And then we’ve got Miguel and Nat and that entire team there.

Now, Let me take you through the legend of what occured with Novell and this whole Micr… this whole open source thing. The first step that we took was, I remember in the beginning, we looked at Red Hat very very carefully because we thought that maybe we should acquire Red Hat to get into this Linux game. Ok, the first, in fact we thought, let’s open-source Netware, we couldn’t do that.

Then we looked at Slackware and said maybe we should take Slackware, and do something with Slackware- put a big N on it and call it Novell’s Linux distribution and.. the hardware vendors said no way, so we went back and forth, and we, y’know we threw mud at this wall continuously, and nothing was sticking. and the big problem with us inside of Novell at the time was we didn’t have people who understood the Linux community, and what we are finding out every day, is that you’ve got to understand the people aspect of this community, not just the technological aspects of this community because it is critical.

Y’know Nat and Miguel, all the project leads, the big contributors within the company that work for us have to read a book and finish a course about that book, and the book is “How to Win Friends and Influence People”… they’ve got to finish that, because it is so critical I mean, when people post code, when they’re replying and providing commentary, whether its silly or not, you have to treat them a certain way, and that’s the success of your project, is collaboration. Ensuring people come there, contribute there and… their contributions are recognized, etc its a big big thing

So when we went out and looked at this Linux thing, we really thought lets jump in to this open source thing in a big way and create our own distribution. Wrong. We took a big step back.

Y’know why we bought Ximian? Does anyone know why we bought Ximian? Because they had cool software? No. We didn’t buy Ximian because of their Red Carpet software, we didn’t buy Ximian because of… the collaboration technologies that they had, we didn’t buy them for the desktop technologies that they had, we bought Ximian for one reason: we wanted people that were community heads, people that understood this community organically, that was extremely well respected, people like Nat Friedman and Miguel De Icaza, we wanted them within Novell.

Why? We needed people that understood, participated in this community, to help and assist our strategy moving forward, because we realized that if we had just bought a Linux distribution, we’d do some silly things and we’d mess up, so we needed people to really give us guidance.

And, when they came into the company, that is their major role, yes they are brilliant technologists, yes they definitely know how this thing stitches together, but the key reason they are there is to ensure that a proprietary, traditional proprietary vendor like Novell, participates properly in this community that we interact properly with this community, and thats the objective.

So thats why we bought Ximian, with Ximian came alot of these open source community stalwarts, people that were well respected, people on the Linus Torvalds level, and y’know what attracted us to Ximian, whenever they spoke at LinuxWorld in the United States, I remember seeing them, when Nat and Miguel got on stage- everybody went to their presentations. Everyone. Y’know even the Linux… the vendors that had stands at the event would leave their stands and watch Miguel and Nat, and they are amazing individuals and we wanted those type of individuals.

Now when you introduce a thing like this into your company, and you’re this proprietary Netware, Groupwise type company, its… its a hard slog, its a culture change, its a big big big culture change. Understanding wait a minute, giving away actually gives you a competitive edge vs keeping closed, its a different mindset.

y’know its difficult to understand that y’know what, your competitive edge actually lays in collaboration and ensuring people can participate etc, versus keeping things closed and having only a small set of developers innovating around a particular thing. so, its a weird mindset and now we’re in it, we’re in it in a big way, and I’d say we’re probably the 800lb penguin now side by side, with IBM.

We’re big in this community now, our pockets are deep, we’ve got lots of technology, we’ve got a huge customer base, lots of capabilities worldwide, big footprint, huge ecosystem behind us.

So what we’re doing with Linux and this is our focus as Novell predominantly, we’re taking linux to the enterprise customer, that’s our participation in this community. We’re taking Linux to the telcoms of the world, the escoms of the world, the… standard banks of the world, the big companies in South Africa, thats our role.

So when we talk about Linux and we participate in the Linux community. yes, we do it technologically, but realize the angle to everything we are doing is an enterprise angle, we represent alot of the enterprise interests, we interface with alot of the enterprises out there, and what we find sometimes in the Linux community is alot of the developers, participants don’t have that front, and feel, that we have that enterprise customers want to see in Linux or what they want out of Linux or their understanding of Linux, etc

And, I think the Microsfot thing came from that, it came from that, and I will lead into that in a second, so Ximian- the people, then we bought SUSE, now we bought SUSE because of the direction that was given to us by people within the company that truly understood the Linux community, and I think we’ve demonstrated our willingness, I think we’ve demonstrated our commitment, i think we’ve demonstrated… our investment that we are willing to make into the community and be a responsible member of it.

It is also very interesting that, although the main role of Nat Friedman and Miguel De Icaza is ensuring that Novell behave properly within the community, they were only briefed within the last week before the announcement about the Microsoft deal.

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