Earlier this week, Novell boss Jack Messman lambasted Microsoft for being a $60bn drain on the IT industry. His assertion is that Bill Gates et al have set back the evolution of the whole industry by gobbling up the cash which IT departments and independent software vendors could have channelled into innovative new products and applications.
Messman claims that for far too long companies have been forced to throw too much of their IT budgets at Microsoft's Office and operating systems licences -- software that should be commoditised, as it's basically plumbing that businesses don't want to pay a premium for.
How soon we forget. Novell owes much of its existence to the one-time success of its Netware network operating system -- software that was ripe for commoditisation; the company is now finding that those customers who didn't desert to Microsoft are opting for Linux instead, and the market for network operating systems has now evaporated.
To try and give existing Netware customers some kind of future Novell has decided to combine the legacy networking product with SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 to create its very own proprietary/open-source hybrid the Open Enterprise Server. The future according to Messman is not the open source or proprietary model but "both-source".
Novell's business model is now built around the concept of a rising tide of commoditisation moving up the software stack. At the moment all eyes are on the commoditisation of the operating system layer, with Microsoft under increasing pressure from Linux. Messman believes the tide will continue to rise, with the application layer as the next battleground, and that this will erode one of Microsoft's most lucrative franchise, Office. The scuffle has already begun with open-source databases, with open-source specialist MySQL claiming around five million active installations.
You could argue that Novell is actually one company that could bust Microsoft for forcing businesses to pay for enabling software that they don't really care about -- because that's exactly what Novell did when its main business was selling networking software. Novell stood still and collected the cash for years while the value moved out of that market, with nearly fatal results. So it's either the voice of experience or the taste of sour grapes that leads Novell to tick Microsoft off for employing the same tactics that built its own networking software franchise -- just with considerably more commercial success. We think it's the latter, but never let rich irony blind us to what may be a valid point.