Drop Dead, Netware!

When I think about Novell (Nasdaq: NOVL  ) , I picture a lumbering dinosaur, tethered to the decaying remains of a once-great operating system. The cost of supporting Netware, Novell's old flagship OS, is keeping the company from wholeheartedly joining the exploding Linux market.

New CEO Ron Hovsepian has his work cut out for him trying to turn this badly limping beast around. As Novell's president and COO, Hovsepian was a driving force in Novell's two-year effort to steer the company toward "software for the open enterprise." But that direction still leans as heavily on Netware as on Novell's other operating system, SUSE Linux.

As a result, both legs of the operating platform are lagging behind. Netware fell out of favor years ago, leaving its customer base and revenues dwindling even as the costs of supporting those customers remain high. But Novell would have to sacrifice the Netware community, and make significant changes to its corporate culture, in order to fully support SUSE and make it a credible competitor for Red Hat (Nasdaq: RHAT  ) -- much less Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows.

Novell executives keep saying that Linux is the company's main focus, but their actions suggest otherwise. The SUSE Professional distribution has been discontinued in favor of the higher-priced, higher-margin SUSE Enterprise edition. Enthusiasts and smaller businesses can now download Professional for free.

That may make sense on the surface: Focus on your large customers, and the rest will follow through trickle-down economics. But Linux as a movement is built the other way around: Build mass-appeal applications and the massive customers will follow -- in a few years. Nothing in this space can be expected to make an immediate impact, and a short-term focus is doomed to failure.

On top of that, the Linux community thrives on a maverick image. Red Hat is cool because it's focused. IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) is pretty cool, too, because it's a well-respected company that's shown real commitment to Linux development. But as long as Novell clings to the remnants of glories past, SUSE won't attract much community support -- the feeling of commitment simply isn't there.

As I've said before, it's high time for Novell to foist Netware on another firm that specializes in supporting obsolete software, and turn to SUSE with a laser-like focus. Linux is Novell's only hope for remaining relevant. Consider Novell's $54 million operating profit over the last twelve months, on $1.16 billion of revenues. Then look at Red Hat's $58 million of operating profit on a mere $278 million of gross sales. Tell me which business model works better -- and whether the difference is worth the pain of making the switch.

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Fool contributorAnders Bylundholds no position in any of the stocks discussed here. Microsoft is aMotley Fool Inside Valuepick. Foolishdisclosureis open source and free as in beer.


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