It has competed hard with the likes of Microsoft and IBM, but over the years Novell has remained a smaller player than either of its two main rivals.
To be fair, Microsoft has played its part in keeping Novell down, with launches such as Windows NT and Active Directory that competed heavily with Novell's mainstay Netware directory. Novell has also had plenty of self-made problems, principally its inability to communicate a story that non-technical management — the holders of the purse strings in many companies — could understand. The company's technology has always been competent but somehow it has never been very successful in communicating this.
Recently Novell has been addressing this inability to present a coherent picture of what it does. The acquisition of Suse Linux in 2003 added some much-needed momentum to the struggling company, but some of that has now tailed off – thanks in part to a high-profile tie-up with Microsoft, which many in the open-source community saw as treachery from a company that, for a while, had been happy to bang the open-source drum.
This week, at its annual BrainShare user conference in Salt Lake City, Novell has come up with a "revolutionary" vision and strategy for what it will do for its existing and prospective customers. Unveiled by chief technology officer Jeff Jaffe, the strategy is all about making IT infrastructure more agile and is named after a Madagascan relative of the Mongoose — the Fossa. Open-source advocates will quickly realise that Fossa, along with being a cat-like and very agile mammal, is also a play on the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) acronym.
ZDNet.co.uk sat down with Jaffe at BrainShare to discuss what Fossa really means, and whether the company has backed away from its previously pro-open-source position.
Q: What exactly is the Fossa project — is it more than a vision or strategy? Will we see a Fossa product suite, for instance?
A: We talked about seven technology pillars and really each of them is at a different level of maturity. The seven we talked about were virtualisation, Linux, orchestration, policy, identity, compliance and collaboration. In most of these areas, and most notably Linux, there is a well-defined community roadmap and a lot of the value-add we will be providing [will include] making it business critical; interoperability; and some of the longer-term road-map items.
Some of the areas such as orchestration and identity management — we are really building on Novell technologies and strategies that we have provided blueprints on for years. And with these technologies we want to build up the community and get everyone to identify with our vision. We want to get open identity services, we want to get every object in the world tied to our identity management.
I think it's a combination of things. I would say in some cases we are done, in some cases we are along the way. It is a full product suite, but there is a lot of innovation to come.
To what degree are those identity products open source at the moment?
Very little. We have some open-source projects; but it's still growing. From the point of view of where the customer wants go with agility, we need it all, but in practice it's going to mature at a different rate.
How much of this is about addressing the vision problem that Novell had in the past — in that you had good products but have not traditionally been great at communicating how they all fit together. You have also lost some momentum from not being as vociferous about open source since former chief executive Jack Messman left the company. Is Fossa an attempt to address all those issues?
We have for several years positioned ourselves as a mixed-source company. We are very excited about Linux but we have never said...