Why doesn't IBM just buy Novell already?

Why doesn't IBM just buy Novell already?

Summary: I actually started pondering this a few days before the Novell-SCO ruling on Tuesday clearly put Novell in an important position as a "[defender of] Linux on the intellectual property front." Why, you ask, would a Googley Edu blogger be thinking about major players in the enterprise Linux market?


I actually started pondering this a few days before the Novell-SCO ruling on Tuesday clearly put Novell in an important position as a "[defender of] Linux on the intellectual property front." Why, you ask, would a Googley Edu blogger be thinking about major players in the enterprise Linux market? Because I can see an open source showdown in the making here, the beneficiaries of which will be consumers, SMBs, enterprises, and educational institutions. I don't get the feeling the showdown will be any fun, though, if Novell is left to its own devices.

First, a bit of background. A few days ago, I fired up Ubuntu 10.04 Beta 1 on a netbook and haven't looked back. This immediately became my desktop OS of choice and is running happily both on the netbook and in a VM on a server I'm using to test various VDI implementations. I needed to set up a backup web server and start testing Moodle integration with Joomla, so I figured I'd take the beta of 10.04 Server for a spin. At the same time, I fired up OpenSUSE 11.2 on another machine since a community-supported educational project (Li-F-E) might have made the Moodle testing a bit easier.

Both did what I needed them to. They both worked quite well, in fact. Like most things in computer-land, the differences in the distros themselves were largely religious and not terribly relevant here. What is relevant is that, although Moodle is included on the Li-F-E DVD, I had a functioning Moodle instance running within minutes on the Ubuntu server. A quick Google search for "Moodle on Ubuntu" sent me to a concise walkthrough and I was good to go. The install base, massive software repositories, and regular release cycles just seem to make Ubuntu more attractive all around.

Why is Ubuntu so darned easy? And can a perfectly nice OS like OpenSUSE (and the enterprise desktop and server products it feeds at Novell) compete with a well-documented, sexy distro like Ubuntu? The answer to the latter question at least is yes, but only with the right support.

I emailed a friend who was close to Novell and OpenSUSE and asked him a similar question. It's pretty clear that Novell isn't providing the sorts of resources that OpenSUSE needs to compete with Ubuntu when Mark Shuttleworth is so happy to dump his own cash into the company. It's also clear that SUSE Linux, in its community-driven form as well as its enterprise incarnations, contains a lot of great technology. Not only does the SCO-Novell verdict affirm that, but many within the company and OpenSUSE community (my friend included) suggested that the "under-the-hood" contributions to creating a stable, scalable, enterprise-class distribution were enough to make the distro competitive.

Wait a minute...Highly scalable? Enterprise-class? Why that sounds like a nice match for the IBM brand, doesn't it? IBM is committed to open source at a lot of levels, but lacks its own Linux distribution that would function well in virtualized environments or on SMB servers (thus, their partnership with Canonical to create the Smart Work Client). IBM also has the resources to support, rebrand, and promote a community project like OpenSUSE and get the enterprise SUSE desktop and server products to a point where they are competitive with Ubuntu, not only under-the-hood, but also in terms of polish and innovation.

As my friend (who wished to remain anonymous) pointed out, "Fedora and Ubuntu are focusing pretty hard on innovation and for the last year...Novell has been focusing on cost-cutting and layoffs." IBM hasn't been without its own restructuring, but potentially has a lot to gain through a strategic acquisition. Of course, he also said he wouldn't acquire Novell on a bet, but the SCO ruling alone could make Novell's intellectual property (in addition to the SUSE brand and technology) worth the purchase price (which, most likely, would be fairly low at this point).

So why does any of this really matter? Because not only does SUSE still have a lot going for it in terms of core technology, but we all benefit from a couple of strong competitors, particularly as the race to the cloud heats up. And speaking of a race to the cloud, Android (and Chrome OS) represents a major, open source factor in getting people to the cloud. As the desktop matters less and less, who's going to be running the back end? Ubuntu is betting on themselves with their Enterprise Cloud. IBM has the hardware, technology and wherewithal to be there as well (certainly more so than Canonical at this point). Ubuntu has plenty of potential on portable and embedded devices, and Android adoption is exploding.

It gets very easy to imagine an incredible degree of synergistic competition around these open source products. Ubuntu, an IBM-backed SUSE Linux, and a variety of Google technologies could be very interesting indeed. Interesting enough to compete with Microsoft in previously unthinkable ways and interesting enough to make sure that Ubuntu focuses as much on those under-the-hood improvements as it does on speedy boots and pretty desktop effects. Interesting enough to create powerful vertical solutions for the markets we care about and interesting enough to give SMBs and enterprises a wide variety of really legitimate options, both on the desktop and in the cloud, whether private or public.

This isn't so much about any particular company as it is about ensuring continued, rapid innovation in a cloud-centric world, where Linux stands to gain as much as Windows has to lose.

Topics: IBM, Open Source, Software

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Good idea. As much as I like Ubuntu,

    ... I have to say that Novell contributes far more to kernel development (and other important under-the-hood innovations) than Ubuntu does. A take-over by IBM would probably mean even more contributions in those fields. Plus openSUSE (and SUSE) would become even more attractive to use.

    Nevertheless, I wish to be fair towards Ubuntu. Canonical is only a very small company with limited funds. It's therefore understandable that they focus on usability, user-friendliness and polishing. They're doing a great job in making Linux more popular.
    • Now why can't more people see it that way? (nt)

      • RE: Why doesn't IBM just buy Novell already?

        A very good and informative article indeed . It helps me a lot to enhance my knowledge, I really like the way the writer presented his views.
        <a href="http://www.3cpromotion.com">gadget personalizzati</a>.
    • I think that Canonical

      could actually push Linux into the desktop and home user market, if they really wanted to. Since they are more focused on usability and effects (which aren't as necessary on a server OS), they could do wonders in these markets.

      Maybe a perfect storm would be for Canonical to buy Novell. At the very least, a Linux company buying Novell would be the perfect storm. But since Canonical has a decent desktop-based distro, and SUSE could be a decent Enterprise-based distro, they would become the "one-stop shop" for all of your Linux needs.

      Have a great day:)
  • Good Question

    If IBM likes SUSE so much, why did they choose Red Hat for their cloud?


    Well, that is easy, Red Hat is where the money is. IBM is just using Novell to protect Linux IP.
    • IBM has to be careful to keep its AIX ...

      ... assets separate from its Linux assets. that's where RedHat comes in. With Novell in its stable, that would not be a problem since Novell owns outright all of the remaining UNIX IP.
      M Wagner
  • RE: Why doesn't IBM just buy Novell already?

    IBM wouldn't want to go down that route. They have their own versions of UNIX and linux and don't need Novell around. If they were to make such a purchase they'd disband any linux departments, take the Netware code and build from there. Using opensuse is not going to help IBM sell hardware. If anything it would be a wasted purchase.
    Loverock Davidson
    • Really???


      Are you REALLY that out of touch??? There have been plenty of aquisitions like that. Case in point. Oracle and OpenSolaris. Whether they disband the Linux departments or not is not the issue. Yes they may very well roll things together. That is the nature of aquistions.

      As to openSUSE. I assume you are generalizing. openSUSE is the community effort NOT the commercial offering. And YES, there is a difference.

      As to IBM's Unix versions, there are the patent and licensing issues. Since Novell clearly owns that, why not acquire? Negates any licencing, royalties, etc.

      Please stop shooting off without thinking. It's clear that you hit ANY linux story within minutes and trolling is the minimum you do. Considered, measured responses would go far in talking about things CREDIBLY.

      You seem to hit EVERY post on ZDNet that even hints at Linux and go into your automated attack mode. If I didn't know better (and could get over the absurdity of much of what you spout) I would think you are a post bot.
      • Really!

        What's your point?
        Loverock Davidson
        • His point?

          You're pointless.
        • And your point?

          My points are many:
          1. You do not understand the nature of acquisitions, mergers, etc.
          2. You are ONLY posting to this story because it involves a LINUX vendor and you have some compulsion to chime in on EVERY story involving Linux.
          3. You have this religious zeal on the whole Windows vs. Linux debate when all that matters is people use what works for them. Could you live and let live? Not sure...
          4. If you simply THRIVE on stirring the pot, fine. Just don't inject your subjective opinion in place of the facts or comment on things you know little about.

          Really, what difference does it make TO YOU if IBM buys Novell. That my friend is why your post has no point either. You are speculating and throwing out statements because YOU don't see or understand the advantages.

          And again, why should you care? IBM is a big rival for Microsoft so if it's such a bad move, you should go into cheer mode and support it.... mistakenly....

          My overall point is that after years of reading your posts, I just got tired of the flippant attitude and compulsive need to deride a product and technology you don't use, understand, or care for. Yes I am feeding the flame/feeding the troll but I just tire of it and had to make a statement. Rant done.
          • RE: And your point?


            You have to understand, that LD is only doing what his [b]Lord and Master(1)[/b] tells him to do. If he doesn't, then it's "No Soup For You". After all, LD does have to eat, and those MIcro$oft checks come in handy.

            Anyway, I firmly believe that LD's last encounter with Linux was when he attempted to compile it to run on a 6502.


            (1) read as Steve (aka [b]Monkey Boy[/b]) Ballmer.
          • Too true

            LOL. I agree. I just FINALLY had to bite. In the past I would just shake my head, or more often, Laugh at the absurdity of his posts. He most certainly has a file or two he copy/pastes from with his tired, old, and incorrect rhetoric.

            I venture between LD and Donnie_boy, a LARGE number of people signed up to post back. I just got sucked in. I really should have let the town it10t be and moved along. Just couldn't.

            I wouldn't mind if he made sense, updated his arguments, were reasoned rather than rhetorical. but he's not. In the same vein there are fanbois everywhere and I get a little tired of it all. Seeing him hunt down EVERY Linux related post just to say something stupid is getting old. (regardless of his "religion" of choice)
          • go easy

            Hey, don't beat up on Loverock. He and his co-workers at Microsoft spent a full two years writing a script that would alert him to linux posts
      • IBM's doesn't need Novell's IP....

        This quote from sometime in 2003 from an IBM executive pretty much says it all:

        "We've reviewed our contracts, and our Unix license is irrevocable and perpetual," Mike Fay, vice president of communications for IBM's systems group, said in an interview Monday. "We're completely committed to AIX and will continue to ship it."

        see http://news.cnet.com/2100-1016-991922.html for the source of this quote.

        With an "irrevocable and perpetual" Unix license already in their posession what does IBM need from Novell?
        • I can come up with a few things...

          1. They get control overall of the IP. No more worrying about companies like SCO or other patent trolls affecting them.
          2. They can release virtually what they want into Linux--without someone accusing them of infringement (because you can guess that whoever does buy Novell will look at the code bases).
          3. They get any royalties from HP, SCO, or whoever purchases Unix. Additional income is always a good thing.
          4. As was mentioned in the article, they have their own Linux Distro, and don't have to worry about paying RedHat or Canonical to partner with them (less expenses is a good thing).
          5. The fact that IBM has been making successful operating systems since long before Linux was around means that they can provide and contribute more than anyone else. (I do believe this statement. It wasn't that their Operating Systems were failures, it was Microsoft's ability to corner the market, that is why you don't see a whole lot of IBM based OS's out there.)

          Have a great day:)
  • RE: Why doesn't IBM just buy Novell already?

    If they should do that. That would put IBM back in the OS
    market .... hummm nice
    • That would put IBM back in the OS market ...

      Ever hear of AIX? Just one of several OSes that IBM owns and sells.

      With Linux they (can and do) develop and support the OS without the overhead of maintaining their own distribution. No need to buy anything to do that and they can offer RedHat and SuSE to anyone who wants it and let the vendor do the full and incremental releases. No need to pay to make their life more complicated.
      Still Lynn
      • True. It really doesn't give them anything

        they don't already have.
        John Zern
        • It gives them outright ownership of AIX and ...

          ... UNIX in general. That's a lot of freedom they don't currently have.
          M Wagner