VARs: Stone's Exit Won't Slow Novell's Linux Drive


Novell announced late last week in a tersely worded statement that Stone had left the company to pursue other opportunities. Stone, one of the driving forces behind Novell's blockbuster $210 million cash acquisition of SUSE Linux, was responsible for engineering, product management and alliances.

Novell said that Chairman and CEO Jack Messman will take over Stone's responsibilities on an interim basis. Stone and Messman were unavailable for comment.

Frank Basanta, director of technology at Systems Solutions, a New York-based Linux systems integrator, said he does not believe Stone's departure will affect Novell's Linux vision and commitment.

"Novell is completely committed to Linux 100 percent," Basanta said. "Messman will continue to drive the strategy forward as he committed to at Novell's BrainShare event earlier this year."

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Carlos Paz-Soldan, vice president of technology and services at Tenet Computer Group, a Novell partner in Toronto, said the news of Stone's departure caught him by surprise. Still, Paz-Soldan said he felt confident that Novell would stay on course with its Linux ambitions.

The turmoil at Novell comes as the company this week plans to release to partners a Linux-based desktop suite priced at $50 per system.

Novell Linux Desktop 9 includes a custom edition of the OpenOffice productivity suite, which includes versions of Writer, Calc and Impress, OpenOffice's word processor, spreadsheet and presentation programs, respectively, said Ted Haeger, director of marketing at Waltham, Mass.-based Novell.

The desktop suite also includes a Mozilla Firefox Web browser and Novell's Evolution e-mail, calendaring and collaboration program, Haeger said. Matching fonts, layouts and technology that preserves document macros enable better document exchange between Linux Desktop 9 and Windows, he added. Also, Linux Desktop 9 is integrated with Novell ZENworks Linux Management, which centralizes desktop management, software deployment and OS patching, Haeger said.

Linux enthusiasts have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new Novell open desktop. Novell partners have been told in the run up to its release that the SUSE Linux-based product will be a way to spare their customers the cost and complexity of Windows desktop licensing.

Still, Haeger is telling partners to temper their enthusiasm about rushing new Novell Linux Desktop 9 software headlong at Windows-reliant corporate environments. "It's not a Microsoft killer," he said.

Haeger said solution providers should first introduce Linux Desktop 9 into vertical markets where customers run fewer, more specific applications. While ISVs work on vertical application development for the next two years or so, solution providers should start near the call center and graduate the Linux desktop up into engineering and CAD environments, he said.

From there, they should displace read-only terminals and Unix workstations. Then, in about three years, they should aim the product at the Windows desktop for general-purpose corporate users and number crunchers, Haeger said.

But some Novell partners say the Linux desktop software has the potential to displace desktop Windows sooner rather than later. Jordan Rosen, president of The Lille Group, a VAR and Novell Platinum partner in Albany, N.Y., said getting Novell Linux Desktop 9 to rapidly replace desktop Windows is just a matter of understanding a customer's organization.

"The real issue here is really a question of what applications your customers need to run [and] what their workers require," he said. "Checklist it off. Do they have hundreds of people processing payments? Hundreds of others just using a few things from Microsoft Office?"

Don Keeler, CTO of Lumen Software, an ISV and systems integrator in Kansas City, Mo., said he thinks Linux really is the Microsoft killer. "I think the wave of change is happening," he said. "I see it happening now. People want choice."