Analysis: Remember NetWare?

Here's a conundrum. How do you keep existing customers happy yet at the same time encourage them to buy into a totally different kind of technology, of which you're not the only vendor?

That's the dilemma facing Novell as it continues to make reassuring noises to loyal Netware customers while, at the same time, increasingly urging them towards Linux. Urging which has become noticeably more strident following the appointment of new CEO, Ron Hovsepian in June.

In case you hadn't noticed, Novell actually stopped independent development of Netware over a year ago, replacing it with the Open Enterprise Server (OES) which can be had with either a SUSE Linux or NetWare kernel. However, although there are two future product releases on the OES roadmap (confirmed at the Novell BrainShare conference in March), these lag some way behind the alternative SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) platform.

Open Enterprise Server customers, for example, will have to wait until the middle of next year to get support for both 64-bit AMD/Intel processors and server virtualisation. These will be in the codenamed "Cypress" release, but have long been available in SUSE Linux Enterprise, with enhanced Xen virtualisation one of the key selling points of the recently launched SLES 10 update.

Cypress will be followed by "Ponderosa" which will focus on collaborative services. However, no firm dates have been set and Ponderosa is, again, likely to follow the introduction of similar functionality on the SLES platform.

On the plus side over 8 million licences have been issued since Open Enterprise Server was released, but this clear lack of development pace may cause some customers to question the strategy. After all what's the point of migrating to Open Enterprise Server when it's possible to leap straight onto the state of the art SUSE platform. Especially if that's the ultimate aim anyway - the impression you get from visiting the Novell website.

Moreover, with rumours flying around of an Oracle takeover, and increasing competition on the application front from both Red Hat and Microsoft, some may even question the need to stick with Novell at all.

A tricky conundrum for a company with a poor track record when it comes to dealing with such matters.