Adopting the challenge of open-source

“I expect some of you are here to see me because you’ve never seen anybody from Novell before,” Novell chairman and chief executive officer, Jack Messman, quipped at the start of his keynote address, opening the LinuxWorld show.

Novell’s purchase in the past year of SuSE Linux and Ximian catapulted the traditionally staid enterprise software vendor into the open-source world.

That’s a change most vendors and customers will face in the near future, according to Messman, who used his keynote to detail the challenges and considerations involved in that transition.

“2004 is going to be the year that Linux goes mainstream on the enterprise server, and soon thereafter, the business users — not just the technical users — will begin the transition to Linux-based desktops,” he said. “This year, Linux will come into the core of the enterprise.”

Chief information officers (CIOs) beginning to use Linux grappled with security issues and the unfamiliar situation of having multiple developers responsible for critical components, Messman said.

Accountability was their main concern, and that created an opportunity for companies such as Novell and Red Hat, he said.

He saw Novell as selling not code but services to deliver and support that software code in a way that’s comfortable for businesses.

“Customers expect to be able to make one call ... and say, ‘This isn’t working. You sold it to us, you fix it,’” Messman said. “CIOs ... want support from someone they can trust. The result has to be the same for customers: One call, one throat to choke.”

To reassure buyers, vendors selling open-source-based software needed to do a better job explaining to customers the development processes designed to ensure the software’s security, and they needed to indemnify their customers against legal responsibility for IP (intellectual property) challenges, Messman said.

Novell had bet its future on adoption of open-source models, and it intended to help steer others in the IT industry in that direction, Messman said.

“We have gained two of the gems of the open-source community,” he said. “But with that comes responsibility, and we take that responsibility very much to heart. We will contribute more to open source than we take away.

“I commit to you here today that we will not mess this up. SuSE Linux and Ximian simply won’t let us. We acquired them, but they will lead the way.”