Speaking to the audience of customers and partners on Monday at the company's annual BrainShare user conference in Barcelona, Novell chairman and chief executive Jack Messman laid out a vision of a company attempting to weave a difficult path between the conflicting agendas of the open-source and proprietary worlds to bring customers "choice and flexibility".
Messman claimed that the opposing software development camps must learn to coexist in a symbiotic relationship. "The future is going to be 'both source' -- not open and not proprietary. The industry needs the profits from proprietary software to help fund open-source developments," he said.
Messman said that the spread of open source beyond the operating system to the application layer -- open-source databases, for example -- will be funded by the need for sophisticated proprietary applications to work on top of the open-source layer.
But shortly after Messman finished justifying Novell's proprietary heritage, Novell's European president Richard Seibt claimed that enterprises should move away from their closed approach to their internal software development and adopt open-source methods in order to cut costs and improve efficiency.
Seibt -- formerly chief executive of SuSE Linux -- said that the open development model should no longer just be the remit of traditional open-source community members but be embraced by mainstream businesses.
"There needs to be a change in culture when it comes to the mindset of developers. We think that open source is something that needs to take hold and something that enterprises should engage with. In an open-source development model you not only reduce your risk, you reduce your cost," Seibt said.
Seibt admitted that there could be "regulatory implications" for companies looking to open-source applications they have developed in-house on top of a proprietary application, but that Novell was working with the rest of the industry to overcome this kind of legal hurdle.
Novell has traditionally been viewed as a proprietary software company in a similar mould as Microsoft. But following the acquisition of open-source tools company Ximian and the SuSE Linux distribution over the last 12 months, the company has been working hard to reconcile an open-source philosophy with its proprietary past.
"We are a company that is in transition and we are about halfway through that transition," said Messman.
Novell's balancing act is exemplified by its efforts to align its Netware network operating system software with its SuSE Linux server products.
Novell has been keen to reassure legacy Netware customers that it is not abandoning the platform in its enthusiasm for everything open source -- despite the dwindling demand for new Netware licences. Microsoft's dominance of the network operating market has forced Netware into a niche that most experts predict it will never escape.
Novell is hoping to keep Netware alive with the introduction of Novell Open Enterprise Server (OES) which includes the legacy networking platform and Suse Linux Enterprise Server 9.
The company hasn't provided a firm shipping date for OES but announced on Monday that the product will move from closed beta testing to open beta testing in early November.
Novell claimed record attendance at BrainShare this year with 2,300 international attendees at the five-day show, which is taking place between 12 and 16 September.