Novell: We're a 'mixed-source' company

New AP chief says company is targeting customers with mixed-source IT infrastructures; insists it is committed to open source developers.

Novell's controversial pact with Microsoft reflects the desire of the number two Linux seller to position itself as a mixed-source company.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia last week, Maarten Koster, the newly-appointed president of Novell Asia-Pacific, noted that the company positions itself in the market differently from its rivals.

"You've got Red Hat as a pure open source company, and you've got Microsoft as a [commercial] license-based company," Koster said. "The reality is, most Novell customers run a mixed-source IT environment."

He added that Novell sees itself a mixed-source company that provides Linux as a "base building block", together with identity and resource management products that manage a hotchpotch of proprietary and open source software within an IT infrastructure.

Although Novell's market positioning might turn off some quarters in the open source community, Koster asserted that "Linux and the open source community is an important part of what we do…and we will not ignore them".

"But, the real question is, what about our customers? At the end of the day, the market will decide what's good and bad," he said, adding that most Novell customers welcomed the Microsoft-Novell pact which had caused a stir among some open source groups.

Under the five-year agreement inked last month, Microsoft and Novell will collaborate on marketing and interoperability efforts. The pact also involves patent-related payments which assure patent claims will not be asserted against each other's customers.

Open source groups such as Samba, have openly criticized the patent-related part of the deal. Last week, Jeremy Allison, a high-profile Samba developer, resigned from Novell and will resume his Samba work at Google instead.

Koster said: "There are some people in the community who are very vocal and negative, but there are also many people who've said this is a good thing."

The Novell executive said he understood the basis of the open source community's grievances, and revealed that there are ongoing discussions to sort things out. "Generally, my experience with these situations is that people will eventually compromise and everyone gets on with their lives," he said.

There are concerns, however, that the Microsoft-Novell agreement may split the open source community since the pact applies to developers differently, depending on whether they obtained their free software directly from Novell or another party.

Koster said: "I don't know what the effect is going to be…only time can tell.

"The community is already split [around GPLv3], and I don't know if it will split even more," he added.

Big plans for Asia
More than six weeks into the job, Koster said he has big plans for Novell's growth path in the Asia-Pacific region.

"My strategy is aimed at expanding the ecosystem of partners," he said. "It's not just [focused on] the resellers and distributors, but the services partners as well."

He said that having an extensive ecosystem, particularly in services, would augment Novell's own sales team's ability to respond to the company's changing business needs.

"For example, if you get a big project for an organization that's based in 32 provinces in China, partners can expand your capacity," Koster explained. "And when the job is over, you can contract again."

Apart from continual investments in the high-growth markets of China and India, he said that Novell will also bolster its business in mature markets such as Singapore, Australia and Japan, where Novell's market share is still "relatively low".

In 2005, Novell accounted for 29 percent of global Linux revenues, while Red Hat's market share was 61 percent, according to IDC figures.

Koster acknowledged: "Red Hat is a formidable competitor, and is currently the gorilla at the moment.

"But we'll see what happens [in the future]," he said. In fact, Koster revealed that Novell will soon unveil the world's largest Linux implementation, which will involve a financial institution in the Asia-Pacific region.