Novell's Linux strategy causes customers concern

Users of the networking company's Netware and GroupWise products are concerned about future support

Novell's ambitious strategy for Linux has led some customers to worry that the networking company may withdraw support for some of its legacy applications.

Speaking at Novell's Linux Big Picture Event on Thursday in London, the company told customers more about Open Enterprise Server (OES), an upcoming product that will combine its NetWare operating system with SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9.

In the keynote speech at the event, Brian Green, Novell European director of Linux solutions said that OES will allow NetWare customers to take advantage of the applications that are available for Linux and will allow SuSE Linux customers to use NetWare services on Linux.

"We appreciate that SuSE Linux provides a stable secure platform for business applications," said Green. "What we've done with Novell Open Enterprise Server is take network services, decouple them from the kernel and make them available on Linux. We've taken all the services you've got used to with NetWare -- file system, printing engine -- and made them available on Linux."

OES is scheduled for release in mid February, according to a Novell spokesman.

But some NetWare customers were concerned that through embracing Linux and open source applications, it may soon withdraw support for proprietary applications that are duplicated in its open source stack. In particular, some customers highlighted the risk to GroupWise, Novell's email and collaboration tool, which offers similar functionality to the open source alternatives SuSE Linux Openexchange Server and Evolution.

James Cunnington, the IS support manager at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, said that he is concerned that GroupWise is likely to be one of the first applications that Novell will end support for.

"We use GroupWise as an email system," said Cunnington. "But it now has a limited life so it is earlier on our list of things to change."

He said he was also concerned about the future of NetWare. "NetWare has had a shrinking market share for such a long time that we have to be concerned," said Cunnington.

Sebastien Springbett, the head of ICT services at the arbitration organisation ACAS, said that although he believes Novell may end support for Groupwise, it is likely to make the migration as easy as possible. He said NetWare's days are likely to be numbered, although over a longer time scale.

"In 20 years time I very much doubt NetWare will still exist," said Springbett. "At some time version 6 will stop being supported and Novell will provide an upgrade path to Linux."

Representatives from the Big Lottery Fund, which distributes money from the National Lottery, agreed that both Groupwise and NetWare were likely to be on their way out now that its network services are being made available on Linux. "There's no point in them continuing to develop NetWare," said one support engineer.

Steve Brown, the European vice president of Novell, said that it would continue providing support for GroupWise in the immediate future. "Certainly in the short term," said Brown. He said GroupWise has advantages over Evolution such as scheduling, encryption and more formal support.