From Microsoft to Opensoft? Novell just another hole in the garden wall

From Microsoft to Opensoft? Novell just another hole in the garden wall

Summary: There's a bit of irony in the fact that Novell is the company that Microsoft made its legal pact with yesterday. Novell as a company is a shell of its former self.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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There's a bit of irony in the fact that Novell is the company that Microsoft made its legal pact with yesterday. Novell as a company is a shell of its former self. But there's a bit of Novell history that might make sense for Microsoft to take note of. Back in the mid-90's the company was cut in two by a bitter dividing line. On one side was a purist and the father of Novell's Netware Drew Major. Major wanted to keep the company going in one direction and had a loyal following at the company's sprawling Provo, Utah campus that was willing to follow him where ever he went. Over on the Orem campus (where its latest acquistion Wordperfect was based), existed other factions including one led by Jeff Merkey who saw the world differently. The company was tearing itself in two (or maybe three or four) and none of the post-Ray Noorda CEOs were able to reign in the distraction while it's biggest threat -- Microsoft -- was finally getting its act together with Windows NT Server. Overall, it wasn't good timing.

Today, while "bitter division" is probably not the way I think anybody would characterize what's going on going on at Microsoft, it's clear from what I'm hearing that there are some at the company that are more forward thinking about open standards and open source (and that are trying to nudge the company more in those directions) while others aren't quite so convinced.

The real question, if you ask me, is whether or not the company has much choice. That's not just because its getting pressure from open source competitors. It's also because the viable alternatives in terms of growing its business (and growth is what any business needs) are increasingly already in one or both of the aforementioned open worlds (source, standards... note they're not the same thing).  

While it's just my opinion, my take on the Microsoft-Novell intellectual property deal is that Redmond would like to see some better growth for Microsoft's flagship .Net and the ecosystem around it. If customers want the benefits of .Net on Linux (which is essentially the unique selling proposition of Novell's Mono), then Microsoft is actually better off letting those customers have it than not. If for example, any of Microsoft's intellectual property presented a barrier to adoption of Novell's Mono, that's not good for Microsoft. If those customers prefer to build their infrastructures on Linux, any IP-barriers will just push them to something else like Rails, PHP, or Java. If Microsoft wants any hope of intercepting that platform demand, it has to allow the .Net ecosystem grow more naturally, even if it's not on Windows. And then, maybe later, it might be able to capitalize on Mono's adoption by getting some people to switch or, by offering .Net-related products and services for which no Linux alternative exists.

In the bigger picture, the fact is that Microsoft made a pact with an open source company and it's a decision that may ultimately prove to be better for Microsoft's business overall. The same thing is true of the company's deal with Socialtext. Wikis, which are what SocialText does, are highly disruptive to other attempts at collaborative infrastructure like Microsoft's Sharepoint. Small companies like Socialtext are good a disrupting the status quo. Big companies like Microsoft may look for disruption opportunities, but ultimately, are almost always responding to disruption.

Either way, whether the company wants to do the disrupting or respond to it, agility is important and invariably means doing deals or acquisitions. Google could have responded to the disruption that wiki hoster Jotspot (a Socialtext competitor) was causing. But it made way more sense (for agility's sake) just to acquire it. One problem for a primarily closed company like Microsoft is that the number of closed-source disruptors to acquire is shrinking. The same goes for Google. Jotspot was a good one to sweep up. But the rest of the viable options (including Socialtext) are either built on open source or are open source.  Looking around at the many startups that springing up all over the world, that trend to either build-on or be an open source company isn't slowing down. It's speeding up which means that, going forward, the only choice for closed-sourced companies to respond to disruption (or create it) may be to acquire open source companies.

Open source can be "taken" closed. It's a bit of an intellectual property trick for the lawyers and requires kid gloves with whatever community of developers is affected, but at the end of the day, is probably not worth it. Should Microsoft or any other traditionally closed-source company find itself acquiring open source companies just to keep up with disruption, the resulting company will at some point be more open source than not.  Maybe not tomorrow, next week or next year. But, depending on how much influence the open thinkers in Microsoft have over the companies direction, eventually.

Somewhere in the future, we'll look back on loosely coupled deals like these and realize that Microsoft should have acquired Novell instead. Just the same way it should be putting Web-based office applications on the Web now, instead of later. The debate is over. There's money to be made in open source and Linux. Sooner or later, Microsoft will have to make some of it. 

Topic: Open Source

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  • Six years

    You're missing the key point of the deal: it expires in six years. After that, all bets are off and Microsoft is free to sue Novell (and its customers) into oblivion.

    Which goes directly to the "which road" question you explore. Microsoft has prospered [1] by locking customers in [2] and using that lock-in to alternately undermine and starve potential competitors. Along the way, they've made many "partnership" deals, but the "partners" have almost universally ended up like Burst, Lattice, Orange, Spyglass, Stacker, WordPerfect, etc.

    In this case, MS is following a well-tested strategy: make a partnership that has short-term attractions to the other party and use it to lock customers into dependence on Microsoft -- then cut the "partner" off.

    As for "open" solution providers, keep in mind that there's really no reason to keep the original code [3]. Use the "open" flavor for the time being to build up the customer list while reimplementing it in a totally MS-closed form. Remember, code is relatively cheap once you have the specs.

    When the time comes, ShareText version N+1 will debut with way-k3w1 features and a very attractive (like, zero) price. Bye-bye SocialText.

    Is that what Bill and Steve are planning? They haven't told me -- but it's a viable and time-proven strategy. MS [b]could[/b] do it that way, and I doubt that they're getting bored with that approach.

    [1] How's that for an understatement?
    [2] The famous three-E strategy.
    [3] Remember Lattice?
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • That strategy will eventually....

      Catch up with them. No ONE buisness can continue on a road like that and be truly successful. If they do want true success the key is to open up and let developers do what developers do best, create and build decent software. On the note of opening up, opening up can also stop the major glut of piracy that microsoft cannot handle.
      Sysop1984
  • Quick notes

    If MS bought Novell, they would own much Unix.

    However, part of MS' history of aquisitions is essentially killing good products, either by neglecting innovating regarding the product, or shelving it altogether.
    hawkeyeaz1
    • Unix isn't worth owning much anymore

      Remember USL v. BSDi? The settlement is on Groklaw if you want to check it out. The SCO suit will show that the SVRx code is a red herring since the vast majority, if not all of it, is public knowledge anyway. The other guy posting here is right. MS may try to substitute their own closed source code to implement the existing specs. The problem with the specs for MS is that they're public. Anyone could implement them.

      As to David's analysis, I think it's brilliant. I didn't know about the trend for startups to go open source/standards. But that totally makes sense. I like David's analysis - he's the one who first referred to ODF as ground zero for office document formats. I don't think that's going away, either. MS can flail all they want, governments all over the world are getting interested in that and open source software.

      Sigh. I have more hope now than I did before.

      The question is, will all the small companies start to each Microsoft's lunch?

      Scott
      Scottman_z
  • Re: Open-source success

    [i]"Looking around at the many startups that springing up all over the world, that [b]trend to either build-on or be an open source company isn't slowing down. It's speeding up[/b] which means that, going forward, the only choice for closed-sourced companies to respond to disruption (or create it) may be to acquire open source companies.[/i]

    David,
    1) Do you have any numbers to support this?
    2) What % of these 'startups' ever become successes?

    The point I am trying to make here is that it is very easy to say a lot of new companies are taking the open-source route, but that statement only has impact if those companies are becoming successes.

    Come to think of it, taking the legion of Linux distributions out of the equation for a minute, SugarCRM and JBoss are the only new(-ish) open-source big successes that I can think of to hand (I'm sure that there are many more).

    Finally, how does one define success when talking about open-source projects? I often hear the argument that the number of downloads is used as a measuring stick, but I personally do not see this as accurate. Downloading a piece of software is often to evaluate the product. By using the 'downloads' argument, this would imply that all evaluations are a success, and that all downloaders become eventual customers. I have a hard time accepting this a fact.
    Scrat
    • If Adobe and Autodesk goopen source, open source is a success

      In the server, open source may be gaining ground, but not at the cost of Windows Server, at the cost of Unix.

      But in the desktop, I do not find a good reason to believe linux will succeed, and here are my reasons:
      Computer are increasingly powerful that any computer you buy today can be used for video editing and 3-D animation
      Almost all devices are getting into video
      Video equipment are getting cheap
      More and more people will have video clips with them
      They will need a good video editing software
      There are no open source alternative to Macromedia Flash, Adobe Premiere, Adobe Photoshop, Lightwave Modeller and Scala Inforchannel designer (These software are predominantly used for multimedia)

      In short, more and more people will be using their PCs not just for office works but for multimedia - the light moments in life

      And Windows is just too good for Multimedia

      Add to that is the fact that more and more people are addicted to high end games

      Add more that the creator of high end graphics card are not going open source - meaning linux drivers are not as good as windows drivers

      So what factors could propel linux for mass adoption?

      User friendliness? Never!
      don_the_newbie
      • Mythbusters

        [b]There are no open source alternative to Macromedia Flash, Adobe Premiere, Adobe Photoshop, Lightwave Modeller and Scala Inforchannel designer (These software are predominantly used for multimedia)[/b]

        This is because Linux is not widely adopted. It has nothing to do with the OS itself.

        [b]Add to that is the fact that more and more people are addicted to high end games[/b]
        Also because of lack of widespread adoption [i]at this point[/i]. Also visit http://www.lokigames.com/ , because they port a lot of popular games to Linux.
        [b]Add more that the creator of high end graphics card are not going open source - meaning linux drivers are not as good as windows drivers[/b]
        Also an invalid point. This is not the fault of Linux. And NVidia produces quality drivers for Linux, I know because I run them. ATI is slightly behind the curve but they also produce functional drivers.
        [b]User friendliness? Never![/b]
        Ha. I scoff. HAHA! Oh sorry. Anyone that has used Linux in the past year or so, and specifically Ubuntu, will laugh with me. I can install a working Ubuntu OS by clicking a few times and reading the instructions in about 20 minutes, with a word processor, Firefox, and all drivers except the Accelarated NVidia drivers, which are installed with one quick command, for FREE. Using a program called Automatix, with a few more clicks can install all media plugins and several useful utilities. The equivelent Windows install takes roughly 2 hours. Windows is slower because of the virus and spyware protection and other neccesary services. Linux is not hard to use, it is [b]different[/b] to use!
        As more smaller companies back it, we will see a revolution.
        jett925@...
  • Another look.

    Assume that open source is a fact but not the future.

    Assume that open source is a way to reduce costs for a small company but a restriction on growth. So many open source companies can come into existence, but only a few will prosper. That prosperity will be based on the choices of the (fickle) public, primarily.

    Assume that for organizations Linux is a way to escape expensive Unixes on less expensive equipment. A way to save money. Not directly competitive with Microsoft products, except as a preventer of sales.

    Assume that Red Hat was on its way to having a monopoly on Linux, even if its open source roots were not going to permit the income such a monopoly would "deserve".

    So it's easy to see why Microsoft would be intrigued when Novell called looking for help.
    Anton Philidor
  • Why on earth would Microsoft want to buy Novell

    Its not worth paying the cash and buying Novell when a partnership would do just as good.

    When you purchase a company you are left with taking in all the baggage of that company.



    Why didnt IBM buy SCO?
    One reason would be because it would mean admission of fault for all charges (atleast most) that were filed by SCO against IBM.
    zzz1234567890
    • How about because...

      a) It can be had relatively cheaply right now
      b) M$ would then have had total control, not just on certain agreed items
      c) No re-haggling over terms later
      d) Ability to extinguish at any point
      e) All the *nix IP it would/could inherit - would be a big prob for Sun & IBM...talk about owning the industry.
      Techboy_z