'We don't need no stinkin' Windows' - Novell boss

Brainshare: Novell kicked off its conference in Salt Lake City with a little help from Linus Torvalds and the 'Lord of the Rings', delivering a passionate rejection of Windows

Novell chief executive and chairman Jack Messman kicked off the company's annual BrainShare user conference with a vociferous attack on software rival Microsoft that was designed to display his firm's commitment to the Linux desktop.

Speaking at the event in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Monday, Messman proudly declared that the 225 PCs at the show were running on SuSE Linux or the Ximian desktop -- and asserted that the entire show would be Microsoft-free this year. "This year BrainShare don't do no stinking Windows," he shouted, to an audience peppered with Linux zealots. The reference, well known in the US, is to the Humphrey Bogart movie "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", in which desperate bandits proclaim that they 'don't need no stinkin' badges'.

Novell has been beating the Linux-desktop drum since its acquisition of SuSE Linux earlier this year. Messman said that the momentum that Linux has injected into Novell has transformed the networking-software company. "I want to sum things up with three little words - Novell is back," he said.

But despite the restorative effects that the SuSE acquisition may have had on Novell's public image and internal morale, it remains to be seen if it will have a similar rejuvenating effect on the company's financial situation, which has been less than healthy of late. The company posted a net loss of $12m (£6.05m) in the third quarter of 2003.

But although Messman admitted that there wasn't much money to be made from the Linux operating system itself, the former head of services company Cambridge Technology Partners, which Novell acquired in 2001, said the money was in applications and services running on top of the open-source OS. "There's not a lot of profit in the Linux OS but we don't sell the code, we sell the software and services that enable IT managers to use the free code," he said.

Novell vice chairman Chris Stone added to the momentum around the Linux desktop by claiming that the company has committed itself to moving 100 per cent of staff from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice by the middle of this year. Although Stone admitted the company was "cheating a little", as OpenOffice would still be running on Microsoft Windows, he said that the aim was to move all staff to OpenOffice on Linux by the end of this year.

Novell's commitment to migrating its internal desktops follows a similar announcement by Sun and a rumoured commitment by IBM that was later denied by the company. Novell's Stone said that it was vital that his company is seen to be "eating our own dog food or drinking our own champagne" from a customer's perspective.

But conscious of not scaring existing Novell customers with too much Linux strategy, Stone and Messman also made several reassuring comments around the company's legacy products. Amid all the Linux tub-thumping, Messman maintained that the company will continue to support its NetWare network operating system despite the possible internal competition with the Linux OS. "NetWare continues to be an important OS and Novell continues to support its development. But if you want to move from NetWare to Linux, then we will help that to happen."

NetWare's popularity has been steadily eroded since the arrival of Microsoft NT, with analyst IDC predicting that its market share could fall to as low as 1.3 percent by 2006.

To try and help spell out its strategy around Linux and NetWare more clearly, Novell announced a new product strategy -- Novell Open Enterprise Server (OES) -- that it claims combines the benefits of NetWare, SuSE Linux Enterprise Server and networking services.

Messman said that the company has brought back the release date for OES by a full year to the end of 2004. "Open Enterprise Server is packaged to enable NetWare customers to start taking advantage of SuSE Linux under their current NetWare upgrade protection and maintenance agreements, giving them flexibility in the timing of their transition to Linux," he said.

"Novell's installed base represents a large, loyal group of customers for Novell -- prime prospects to deploy SuSE Linux alongside their NetWare systems," said Al Gillen, research director of system software at analyst IDC.

Novell closed the keynote session with an animated video spoof of "The Lord of the Rings", entitled The Lord of the Net: Tale of the Two Servers, substituting Linux penguins in the place of the hobbits. Linus Torvalds also made an appearance, possibly as the magician Gandalf, with Bill Gates cast in the role of the evil Lord Sauron.