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12 November, 2005
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MozillaQuest Magazine Op-ED

Is It Deja Deja Novell All Over Again, Again?

Ximian/GNOME v SUSE/KDE at Novell

. . . in the broader picture and scheme of things, the development, growth, deployment, and enjoyment of GNU-Linux and Free and Open Source Software is doing just fine without the greedy Wall Street analysts and tycoons sticking their snoots in -- and without their trying to exploit the great volunteer efforts of the Linux and FOSS communities.

Mike Angelo -- 12 November 2005 (C) -- Page 1

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Article Index

Executive Summary

Novell/SUSE now is GNOME-centric. That's a big mistake. The SUSE-branded products should remain KDE-Centric.

Is Novell emasculating KDE and SUSE? Is Novell/SUSE dropping support of KDE? Are the Ximian/GNOME forces within Novell pushing out the SUSE/KDE forces, and so forth? Is Novell planning to dump its SUSE Linux products?

In 2003, Novell acquired Ximian, a Linux software company. In 2004 Novell acquired SUSE, a Linux OS distribution provider. This seems somewhat reminiscent of Novell's mid 1990s acquisition of the UNIX and DR DOS operating systems plus the WordPerfect, and Quatro Pro software? Then Novell dumped them. Is Novell again in an acquisitions dumping mood?

The Novell people deny that Novell is dumping either SUSE Linux or the KDE desktop suite. Novell's Bruce Lowry told MozillaQuest Magazine that (1) there is no systematic plan to get rid of SUSE people, (2) Novell/SUSE will continue to support both the GNOME and KDE desktop suites, and (3) GNOME will be the default desktop on the Novell and SUSE Linux distributions, but that users will be able to select the KDE desktop if they so chose.

If there is a flaw in Jack Messman's plans for GNU-Linux and FOSS at Novell, it could be trying to bring two competitive and independent developer communities, GNOME and KDE, under the same corporate umbrella. In the Novell situation, Ximian is in effect the corporate sponsor and/or extension of GNOME. And SUSE has been a KDE-centric, GNU-Linux distribution that provides substantial support to the KDE community.

Five facts in support of the conclusions that Novell/SUSE is no longer supporting KDE and/or that now Novell/SUSE is GNOME-centric and/or that Novell is cutting back on SUSE are: (1) Hubert Mantel, a founder of SUSE Linux and the head maintainer of the SUSE Linux kernel, resigned from SUSE/Novell Wednesday; (2) Richard Seibt, who was President of SUSE at the time Novel acquired SUSE, resigned from Novell/SUSE in May 2005; (3) Former Novell Vice-President Chris Stone, who was very much involved in the SUSE acquisition, left Novell last year; (4) Novell/SUSE laid off a heavy duty KDE developer; and (5) Novell plans to implement a total headcount reduction of approximately 600 positions.

Could Ron Hovsepian's promotion be a slow, easing-out of Novell CEO Jack Messman's leadership and his plan to adopt and deploy Linux and Free and Open Source Software at Novell?

Novell's Bruce Lowry, says no. He noted that Jack Messman remains CEO while Ron Hovsepian is COO and that Jack Messman still has the full support of the Novell Board of Directors.

That's important because it is going to take time for Jack Messman's plan for Novell's entry into the Linux and Open Source Software arenas and communities to reach the success and penetration that we expect it to reach.

It's important because greedy Wall Street analysts and tycoons, who likely do not understand Linux and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), should not be allowed to put pressure on the Novell Board to interfere with Novell's successful adoption and deployment of GNU-Linux and FOSS. And it seems that some of those greedy, clueless, Wall Streeters are trying to do just that.

GNU-Linux and Free and Open Source Software are doing just fine without greedy Wall Street analysts and tycoons sticking their snoots in.

In February 2004 Jack Messman, Chris Stone, and Richard Seibt laid out their well-thought plan for Novell's entry into the Linux and Open Source Software worlds. Novell's Bruce Lowry told MozillaQuest Magazine that Novell's strategy and focus has not changed from 2004.

However, it appears that Hubert Mantel is not happy with the directions in which Novell has taken SUSE Linux. His statement that "This is no longer the company I founded 13 years ago." is not to be taken lightly.

There have been several published stories and there has been some forums chatter recently to the effect that Novell (NOVL) is emasculating KDE and SUSE. The gist is that Novell/SUSE no longer is supporting KDE. Novell/SUSE now is GNOME-centric, the Ximian/GNOME forces within Novell are pushing out the SUSE/KDE forces, and so forth. And one recently published opinion suggests that Novell is planning to dump its SUSE Linux products. (Links in Resources section on page 3.)

In 2003, Novell acquired Ximian, a GNU-Linux, software development company and principal commercial sponsor of GNOME, a Linux desktop environment. Then in January 2004, Novell acquired SUSE, a KDE-centric Linux distribution provider.

Could this be a repeat of Novell's mid 1990s acquisition and then divestiture of the UNIX operating system, the DR DOS operating system, WordPerfect, and Quatro Pro?

For more about Novell's mid '90s acquisitions and divestitures and then its 2003/2004 SUSE Linux and Ximian acquisitions, please see our article Deja Novell All Over Again.

Facts

Five facts in support of the conclusions that Novell/SUSE is no longer supporting KDE and that now Novell/SUSE is GNOME-centric and/or that Novell is cutting back on SUSE are:

(1) Hubert Mantel, a founder of SUSE Linux and the head maintainer of the SUSE Linux kernel, announced his resignation from SUSE/Novell Wednesday;

(2) Richard Seibt, who was President of SUSE Linux at the time Novel acquired SUSE and then served as President of Novell's European operations (Novell EMEA), resigned from Novell/SUSE in May 2005;

(3) Former Novell Vice-President Chris Stone, who was very much involved in the SUSE acquisition, left Novell last year;

(4) Novell/SUSE recently has laid off one of its heavy duty KDE developers; and

(5) According to a 2 November 2005 Novell press release, Novell plans to implement a total headcount reduction of approximately 600 positions, more than 10% of Novell's worldwide workforce.

We asked the Novell people, who is the KDE developer that left Novell. They refused to identify that person. Replying via e-mail for Novell, Kevan Barney wrote: We don't provide specifics on employees impacted by the restructuring.

Add to that Novell's recent announcement that Ron Hovsepian, Novell's Executive Vice-President and President of Novell's global field operations, has been promoted to President and Chief Operating Officer of Novell. To some degree this position appears to be somewhat similar to the position Chris Stone had, but with a broader scope and more clout. However, could Ron Hovsepian's promotion be a slow, easing-out of Novell CEO Jack Messman's leadership and his plan to adopt and deploy Linux and Free and Open Source Software at Novell?

Novell's View

We asked Novell Director of Public Relations, Bruce Lowry, about that in a telephone conversation Thursday. He replied in the negative to that question. Bruce Lowry noted that Jack Messman remains CEO (Chief Executive Officer) while Ron Hovsepian is COO (Chief Operating Officer).

In an e-mail discussion we asked:

before Ron Hovsepian's recent promotion, was Jack Messman CEO and President and thus Ron is replacing Jack as President?

Novell, Senior Public Relations Manager Kevan Barney replied to that question stating:

Jack was - and remains - Chairman and CEO. Ron is now the President and Chief Operating Officer.

The Novell President position is a new position.

On October 31, 2005, the Board of Directors of Novell, Inc. ("Novell") promoted Ronald Hovsepian to the newly-created position of President and Chief Operating Officer and reappointed Jack L. Messman as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. In addition to his current responsibilities for worldwide field operations, which includes sales, consulting and technical services, Mr. Hovsepian will assume responsibility for product development and marketing. (Emphasis added. Novell's 31 October 2005 SEC Form 8 K report -- link in Resources section on page 3.)

Thus, Ronald Hovsepian is not replacing Jack Messman as President because the Novell President job is a new position according to the SEC 8 K report.

Bruce Lowry also told MozillaQuest Magazine in that telephone conversation Thursday that Jack Messman still has the full support of the Novell Board of Directors.

MozillaQuest Magazine believes it is particularly important that Jack Messman does have the support of the Board. It's important because it is going to take time for Jack Messman's plan for Novell's entry into the Linux and Open Source Software arenas and communities to reach the success and penetration that we expect it to reach.

It's important because greedy Wall Street analysts, who likely do not understand Linux and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), should not be allowed (by the Novell Board) to put pressure on the Novell Board that might interfere with Novell's successful adoption and deployment of GNU-Linux and FOSS. And it seems that some of those greedy, clueless, Wall Street analysts are trying to do just that.

Moreover, in the broader picture and scheme of things, the development, growth, deployment, and enjoyment of GNU-Linux and Free and Open Source Software is doing just fine without the greedy Wall Street analysts and tycoons sticking their snoots in -- and without their trying to exploit the great volunteer efforts of the Linux and FOSS communities.

That's not to say that all the Wall Street analysts and people are greedy and clueless or trying to exploit Linux and FOSS. There also are analysts, investors, corporations, and so forth that have fit-in and are nicely fitting-in to the GNU-Linux and FOSS models and contributing as much if not more to the communities as what they are taking.

Jack Messman's Plan and Some Novell History

At the February 2004 LinuxWorld Expo in New York City, Jack Messman, Chris Stone, and Richard Seibt laid out their vision and plan for Novell's entry into the Linux and Open Source Software worlds. Their vision and plan, as we understand it to be, was well thought, effective, and we like it. Moreover, so far Novell seems to be implementing that plan.

In his LinuxWorld Keynote address, Novell CEO Jack Messman said:

Novell understands that, with its acquisitions of SUSE LINUX and Ximian, we have gained two of the gems of the open source community.

With that comes responsibility. And we take that responsibility very much to heart. We will contribute more to open source than we take away. (Emphasis added.)

Novell isn't going to simply port its existing network services to Linux and "we're done." We cannot and will not stop there.

Novell will continue to remain at the forefront in promoting Linux. We will fill the solution gaps on the Linux server with enterprise support, with management tools, with partnerships.

Novell will push the Linux desktop to new levels of usability, and we will rally and create a network of Linux desktop application ISVs. We will offer the world's most comprehensive and tightly integrated Linux desktop solution, at a competitive price. (Emphasis added.)

(Novell Linux Dominates LinuxWorld 2004: Overview, page 1.)

For more about that, please see our coverage of Novell at the February 2004 LinuxWorld Expo in New York City:

    Incidentally, Chris Stone was a Novell Vice-President at that time. He left Novell in 2004. Richard Seibt left Novell in May 2005. Please take note that of the three top Novell and SUSE executives that were involved in that 2004 vision and plan only one, Jack Messman, remains at Novell.

    More recently, in our article, A Glimpse of SUSE Linux 10.0 and Other Things Brewing at Novell, we noted: Incidentally, Novell CEO Jack Messman told MozillaQuest Magazine two years ago that Novell would be a full participant in the open source movement. Looks as if Jack Messman is keeping his word.

    In our telephone conversation Thursday, Bruce Lowry told MozillaQuest Magazine that Novell's strategy and focus has not changed from that enumerated in our 2004 articles and our more recent Glimpse of SUSE Linux article. That certainly is good news.

  • See Dissent -- SUSE's Hubert Mantel Resigns on Page 2 ----->

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