Friday, March 13, 2009

Microsoft-Novell, Once Hot and Heavy, Cooling Down

Channel Web has this article on how the Microsoft-Novell deal is cooling off. Microsoft's multi-million dollar deal to resell Suse Linux subscriptions was like Coke selling Pepsi, an unreal deal between two competitors. When I first read about the deal, my sense was that it would fizzle out in a couple of years. As a journalist, during the dot-com boom, one has been witness to countless dog-and-pony shows but none of these short-term tamashas can substitute for a robust business model.

In some ways, this is a real pity because if any company could have provided some competition to Red Hat in the enterprise Linux space, it was Novell. When Novell purchased Suse, I was asked by a journalist for my opinion. My take was that Novell has established channels and a large support team in India for Novell NetWare and if they successfully transition this team to Suse, Red Hat would have a tough competitor on their hands. That transition never happened. If Novell had succeeded, it would have expanded the overall Linux market and that would have been great for open source.

A year after the deal, I joined Red Hat and one of the first things I came across was our chairman Matthew Szulik's famous quip, "It's a marathon, not a sprint." It seems so easy to set up an enterprise Linux business. Download the source code, build a distribution, hire a bunch of smartly dressed salespeople and voila! you have an enterprise Linux business. But, as even mighty Oracle found out, it ain't that easy.

Building a distro may be the easy part, but the really hard (and unglamorous) part is ensuring that thousands of underlying hardware configurations and thousands of software programs that run on top of the distro are certified and supported. This is truly a marathon and not a sprint. The day somebody is seriously ready for the marathon, Red Hat will have competitors.