Editorial: An indelible mark

Editorial: An indelible mark

With change the only real constant in this industry, how companies manage these periods of transition largely dictates those which continue to thrive and those which eventually fall by the way side. Not only is size no guarantee of safety, it often makes it more difficult to react quickly and dodge the bullets.

Let's look at one industry giant that is currently in the thick of trying to reinvent itself. I am talking about Novell, which has seen its flagship NetWare operating system dwindle in popularity in recent years as the world of technology became increasingly application centric.

At its recent annual partner conference, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer pointed to end-users running NetWare [or IBM's Lotus Notes for that matter] as prime conversion targets. Can't blame him for that - it's a basic principle of business that when you have a competitor on the floor it's best to stand on their throat.

NetWare most definitely has an unflattering 'legacy' tag swinging around its neck these days and, although there are many engineers who still think fondly of it, Novell has been forced to go back to the drawing board and find a Plan B.

Since acquiring SuSE Linux about 18 months ago, it has become clear that Linux will play an important part in Novell's attempts at recovery. And, from a product perspective, it seems to be doing a good job (see the product review in ARN, August 10 edition, page 32).

But while many in the industry and end-user communities are supportive of the open source movement and its attempts to break the Microsoft stranglehold, Novell and its other advocates still have a long road to travel.

Engineers, quite understandably, would rather be trained in Microsoft because that is still where most of the money is. As Dimension Data's Steve Ross pointed out, there are currently about 10 Microsoft jobs in the market for every Novell position (see page 1 of our august 10 issue).

All of this leaves Novell twiddling its thumbs in a vacuum waiting for something to happen. Top of its wish-list would be widespread enterprise adoption of open source, but this is a long-term play. In the meantime, its products are respected but engineers prefer to skill up with more mainstream certifications that will provide a good source of income today, tomorrow and next week.

One of the problems with achieving success is that it leaves an indelible mark - just look at the Friends cast and the problems they have had trying to reinvent themselves. Or closer to home, HP's largely unsuccessful attempts to make a consumer electronics play with digital cameras and me-too iPods (see page 17 of our August issue).

So it is for Novell which, despite all efforts to scream from the rooftops that it has more in its bag than NetWare, is still largely associated with the operating system by the vast majority of users and resellers alike.

For now, Novell must keep banging the drum for all it's worth until it gets the message through. Once that happens, and the orders start rolling in, you can bet your bottom dollar that the channel will embrace it and jump back on board.

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