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Novell's Hovsepian bullish on the future

Q&A: Novell's new chief executive discusses the way forward for his company, and the future of open source in the enterprise

As the new chief executive of Novell, Ron Hovsepian has his job cut out for him.

Despite being described as more of a salesman than his predecessor Jack Messman, analysts have still predicted a short tenure if he doesn't produce a speedy reversal of the company's poor showing against Red Hat.

ZDNet UK caught up with him on Monday for a brief chat about Novell's current focuses and the future of open source in the enterprise.

Q: So how have your first days in the job been?
A: The first four days have been very busy. I'm excited at what's in front of us in terms of what the market has to offer.

Some analysts say you haven't got a long time to pull the company around. Do you think that's the case?
I live my life looking at two dimensions, the strategic and then a ninety-day window of what's in the quarter, and from my vantage point at the strategy level I think these markets are very young.

If you do a comparison with the PC market, the market wasn't decided until the mid-90s. Operating systems started even before that for PCs, so I look at those things as a ten- to fifteen-year cycle, and we're probably in year three or four. In the short term, though, I feel very impatient about what we need to get done.

How do you see Novell's products in relation to Red Hat?
From an overall product perspective I feel great about our technical packaging. We shipped our 2.6 kernel a solid nine months ahead of Red Hat and we were shipping virtualisation, for this latest release in July, six months ahead of Red Hat.

Open SUSE is the No. 1 download right now on DistroWatch. I feel really good that our product is heading in the right direction technically, and we have a really good point of view on an enterprise approach for our customers, whereas Red Hat is an edge server product. Now, when you want to move into big commercial workload, people feel much more comfortable moving over to SUSE Linux.

Do you see open source adoption in the enterprise accelerating, and in which areas?
Specifically I see it accelerating in the enterprise — the commercial-grade Linux that SUSE offers is getting much higher resonance. W.W. Grainger is putting their SAP application on top of SUSE Linux, for example.

The second thing I see is the excitement around the desktop in particular — I've been blown away by the enthusiasm behind the SUSE Linux desktop. The product has really been well received and we're excited about delivering that product in July.

What [our desktop] offers the customer uniquely is the same code base that runs your mainframe, your risk server, your Intel server, your desktop, your kiosk, is all the exact same code base. Our customers only have to train their staff once and they get the full reach from us.

What will you do if Oracle comes up with an open source distro?
My point of view is, Oracle is a very capable company and they can do a lot of things.

[It depends] what the right priority is for them and their customers. Oracle has supported some 16 or 17 operating systems over the years, and they would probably seek to continue that strategy.

We can develop a stronger support relationship with Oracle, but I would be surprised if they felt the need to develop their own distro at this point.

How do you think the changes at the top of Microsoft will affect the market?
In terms of the customer market, the customers are making their own key decisions in terms of the stronghold that Microsoft has had over them.

We're also aware that the customer is going to be dealing in a mixed environment and we're very keen on Novell being the one to help them, with our history of Netware and operating in a heterogeneous environment.