Is NetWare a Novell (NASDAQ:NOVL) product line or the ultimate question? That's what folks who were looking for the networking specialist to produce a quarterly profit last night were probably left wondering when the company produced disappointing fiscal second-quarter results.

Net? Where?

In fact, Novell produced a loss of $0.04 a share after a series of charges. While it would have earned $0.03 a share without the markdowns -- meeting Wall Street expectations -- the results weren't highly encouraging.

Sure, revenues were up by 7% for the period to $294 million, but more than half of those gains were inflated by favorable currency translations. A troublesome pop in accounts receivable due to uncollected debts floating further past due resulted in negative cash flow. It's not a pretty picture, but Novell deserves a little more patience.

Last year, the company seemed to be regaining its winning ways through reinvention. After a few Linux-related acquisitions and with a willing investor in IBM (NYSE:IBM), change was in the air. And while open source isn't the fat of the margin-happy land that a heavy like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) grazes on, RedHat (NASDAQ:RHAT) has carved out some decent scratch from Linux.

We still don't know whether Novell will be a contender or a pretender. Thankfully, it has a forgiving balance sheet that is rich in greenery. With nearly $2 a share in cash, the company will have a few chances to fail before it gets its turnaround right. That doesn't mean that it eventually will get it right. Only that it's too soon to abandon all hope.

With companies like Novell making headway in Linux, should Microsoft be worried? Can Mr. Softy lick the open-source movement the way it whipped rival operating systems? All this and more -- in the Microsoft discussion board. Only on

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wants to write the great American Novell. What a Novell idea! He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story.