Novell's critical chance

With the ousting of CEO Jack Messman, Novell has a vital chance for reform. It will probably be its last

With a new CEO, Novell has got to move fast. The company's number one requirement is to lose its reputation for indecision and lack of killer instinct. Once, the company was king of enterprise networking - a position it seemed to assume was its by divine right. Bill Gates is on record as saying how he couldn't believe his luck as Microsoft messed up attempt after attempt to get into networking, waiting each time for Novell to wake up and lock the market up once and for all. It never did. Instead, a string of acquisitions came and, usually, went, leaving nothing but a hole on the books.

Novell has structural problems too, with analysts citing fundamental problems with the lack of management credibility and too much money being spent and invested on the wrong things. Whether or not this is fair criticism, investor confidence will only return if action is taken - and seen to be taken.

There is no reason why, with new focus and new drive, Novell should not recover and prosper. It sees Linux as a core enterprise technology, an opinion that the world is coming to accept as valid. It is focussed on delivering functionality, flexibility, reliability and openness - all areas where the opposition is vulnerable, and areas where success feeds directly into better performance. This is a sane path to tread, if you can deliver and keep on delivering.

Time is limited. Larry Ellison may have been playing with the market when he mused openly about Oracle adopting Linux, but Novell may not be strong enough yet to beat off a direct assault. Red Hat is aggressively pushing into application servers: open source enterprise certainly has as much energy and competition as any other sector. If only it had the money.

The next couple of years are going to be decisive for Novell. There are signs that the market is not going to blindly follow Microsoft into the next OS and application upgrade cycle. It's ready to look at new ways of doing IT, open to good arguments and demonstrations of genuine advantage. It's a good time to be doing battle if you're ready, willing and able. To succeed, Hovsepian has merely to pick any three - and make them stick.

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