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Novell Acquires Ximian

Networking software specialist Novell , once a staunch proponent of proprietary software, continued its waltz into the open source sphere Monday with the announcement that it has acquired Ximian, a specialist in Linux desktop, management and groupware technologies.

"That's actually a pretty clever move," Nicholas Petreley, Linux analyst with Evans Data Corp., told internetnews.com.

He added, "The downside is that Novell has not historically done very well with its strategies. It could be that, even if they have the most brilliant idea on the planet, they're not going to be able to execute it effectively to make it work. On the other hand, if they can get some good leadership in there, I expect they can present a challenge to Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, and they can also leverage some of Ximian's other strengths to break into other areas, such as Mono, the .NET clone."

Novell began its journey toward open source in April, when it detailed plans for adding Linux services and applications to NetWare 7.0. The company said the forthcoming version of NetWare will offer a suite of services that reside on both the NetWare and Linux kernels. At the time, Novell Chairman and CEO Jack Messman said the company would give customers the option to migrate to the Linux kernel.

The acquisition of privately-held Ximian, based in Boston, Mass., jump starts Novell's efforts with Linux, and brings it some of the key figures behind the GNOME and Mono projects.

The GNOME project, initiated by Miguel de Icaza, a well-respected developer in the Linux community and CTO and co-founder of Ximian, develops an open source desktop which includes a set of development tools; file, desktop management and help systems; and a set of applications, including spreadsheets, word processors, Web browsers, image editors and music players. Ximian offers the GNOME desktop as the core of its Ximian Desktop 2 (XD2) Linux desktop environment. The Ximian Evolution software integrates email, calendaring, contact management and task lists into a single application that can connect to corporate communications architectures like Microsoft Exchange and Sun ONE. Novell plans to integrate client-side Ximian Connector extensions with its GroupWise product to allow it to utilize Evolution.

GNOME has been slipping in usage compared to the other major Linux desktop environment, KDE, according to Evans Data's Summer 2003 Linux Development Survey, published Monday. While the two desktops had remained more or less neck-and-neck since spring 2000, Evans Data's latest survey found KDE was now the desktop of choice of 42 percent of respondents, and it is being used in 65 percent of cases. GNOME has dropped to 37 percent of respondents and appears in 56 percent of cases, according to the survey. The survey suggested that the decrease in interest in GNOME is due to the fact that it has been repeatedly redefined and repositioned, making its feature set a bit stagnant. The survey said that if the latest redesign "takes" and GNOME development stabilizes, it will likely regain the interest it has lost.

Petreley said that leadership from Novell on the project may be just the edge GNOME needs.

"What GNOME really needs is good leadership and direction," he said. "It's been suffering from 'too many cooks syndrome' for so long now. Somebody's got to step in there and lay down some design rules. If Novell can do that, they've got a great asset on their hands."

Meanwhile, Mono is an effort backed by Ximian to provide tools that can allow applications developed using Microsoft .NET to run on Linux, Unix and other platforms.

Petreley suggested that Novell's backing could lend the Mono project additional credibility.

"Just being Novell gives them more credibility if they get into a patent or legal fight with Microsoft over Mono," Petreley said. "It gives me more confidence in Mono. I had very little confidence in it."

Petreley explained that Microsoft holds patents on a lot of the technologies that underlie Mono, and could present legal challenges if it feels Mono is gaining too much share.

de Icaza, and fellow Ximian Co-Founder Nat Friedman, senior vice president of Ximian, helped found both projects.

Novell will turn Ximian into a new business unit, the Novell Ximian Services business unit at Novell. de Icaza will take over the mantle of CTO of the new unit, while Friedman will become vice president of research and development at the unit.

"There were multiple places where Ximian and Novell complemented each other," de Icaza told internetnews.com.

de Icaza said Ximian has been in talks with Novell for the past month, and the two companies saw multiple touch points that could bring them together, a sentiment echoed by David Patrick, president and CEO of Ximian, now general manager of the Novell Ximian Services business unit.

"Together, Novell and Ximian offer tremendous benefits for customers," Patrick said. "Our breakthrough management and desktop products strongly complement Novell applications on Linux and Novell Nterprise Linux Services. The global Novell channel, partnerships with industry leaders and proven customer support will benefit customers. Novell as an enterprise company is the ideal choice for us to drive growth for the Linux market as a whole."

Messman added, "Linux is the fastest-growing platform in the market today because it helps customers meet challenges effectively, both from a cost and performance perspective. But customers still face two key business issues: how to provide cost effective management and maintenance of Linux systems, and hot to deploy and support low-cost Linux desktops within the organization. Novell now delivers market-leading solutions for both. Just as important, Ximian brings Novell unparalleled Linux expertise, helping us not only deliver more value to customers, but also strengthening our ability to work with and leverage open source initiatives more constructively."

In addition to bringing Evolution and GroupWise together, Novell also has its eyes on Ximian's Red Carpet Enterprise software, which provides centralized software management of Linux servers and desktops, with the ability to manage updates across multiple Linux distributions. Novell plans to tightly integrate Red Carpet with its ZENworks product line, which focuses on Novell directory services and policies management.

Novell also vowed to carry forward the banner for the GNOME and Mono projects, with both de Icaza and Friedman continuing their efforts on both.

"It's a huge step forward for the open source community to gain strong support from a company like Novell," de Icaza said. "Initiatives like GNOME and Mono will only improve with Novell's resources behind them. Novell has already made a strong commitment to open source with its recent decision to put the full range of its network services on Linux and its inclusion of MySQL, Apache and other open source technologies in NetWare. Ximian's leadership within the open source community, along with Novell's strength and reputation in the enterprise market, are a powerful combination that will help move GNOME and Mono forward."

Novell plans to bring Ximian into its fold whole-cloth. de Icaza told internetnews.com that all Ximian employees will move over to Novell and will continue working out of Ximian's offices or telecommuting as they do now.

"Those in the Boston office will continue working in the Boston office," he said. "For now we're going to keep the teams the way they are."

But while ongoing projects and initiatives at Ximian will continue as they are, de Icaza said the focus of new efforts will be developing Novell's strategy for providing solutions on servers and clients, and building out a Linux channel strategy at the company.

"I think the biggest thing that will happen is we'll get involved with the Novell Linux strategy," he said. "We're helping to put that together. Once we have it complete, we will properly staff it so we can execute."

Novell said it acquired Ximian in an all-cash transaction. It said the acquisition is not expected to have a material effect on its financial statements in the current fiscal year, but did not disclose any of the terms.

In related news, the Evans Data survey also found that few Linux developers are troubled by SCO Group and its assault on Linux. SCO claims that Linux is an unauthorized derivative of its Unix intellectual property.

"The SCO threat seems to have generated far more heat than light," Petreley said in his analysis of the survey. "Fully 88 percent of developers responding say that the SCO vs. IBM intellectual property lawsuit against Linux will have absolutely no effect on their plans, probably no effect, or they have no opinion on the matter. Only 6 percent are certain the SCO lawsuit will affect their plans, and another 6 percent think the lawsuit will probably affect their plans. Obviously, the SCO strategy of keeping its evidence against IBM secret (or made available only through second-hand sources who are under non-disclosure agreements as to what they can report) has limited impact of its litigation threats."

Specifically, 45.5 percent of respondents said the suit would "absolutely not" have an effect on their plans, 20 percent said "probably not," and 16.1 percent said "no opinion."

Evans Data sent invitations to participate in the survey to developers from the EDC International Panel of Developers, and to various opt-in lists. EDC surveyed 435 developers online.