Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Prescription for Novell's "Cold Realities"

Did you see this BusinessWeek story on Novell?

This company needs a radical re-thinking about its PR.

Up until 12 months ago, believe it or not, our firm used Novell's GroupWise email. Our network ran on NetWare. We've been fans of Novell's technology for years. Meanwhile we've been genuinely excited about their moves in Open Source. They're also local to our Boston HQ - so, basically, we root for 'em. But the marketing has been a hard slog, as evinced by the BW piece.

(Tougher yet are the comments made by the BW readers in the forum that follows the article. It was a few of those comments that led me to this post.)

Here's my prescription for how Novell ought to re-frame its core message, free of charge:


What does Novell stand for? Where is it headed?

There’s been little need to pay much attention to Novell for the last several years: regardless of the company’s entrenched revenue streams and storied history as a networking industry pioneer, from a PR perspective and in the minds of most of our corporate contacts, Novell’s been tabbed for a long time as "Yesterday’s News."

But I think I know what Novell really stands for, and where it’s supposed to be headed: if it played its cards right, Novell could create an "alternative version" of the future of the software industry.

Look at the current "stack" of horizontal corporate applications, ranging from the database to the application server, from the network operating system to the office productivity suite, from the desktop OS to the Instant Message and email systems and the Web browser: these are the foundation materials of computing, and with few exceptions this software has historically either been created and/or subsequently dominated by Microsoft. If you spent the last 20+ years in technology, whatever you could do, they could do it better, whether you were Novell or Netscape, or even IBM.

Until today. Until now. Until the new Novell.

What does Novell stand for, and where is it headed?

Novell is offering the first viable substitute to the Microsoft universe. By harnessing the energy and talent of thousands of talented software engineers who have devoted their lives to Open Source computing, Novell has diligently assembled a software ecosystem that can compete with Microsoft in virtually every area.

Replace Outlook with GroupWise and Evolution. Replace Office with OpenOffice.org. Replace Windows XP with the Novell Linux Desktop. Replace IE with Firefox. Replace the BackOffice server with JBoss… and so it goes! The IT group can even manage both Linux and Windows workstations via ZENworks.

In essence Novell is offering the power of a Goliath-killing cadre of code jockeys to global corporations – under the aegis of a safe, enterprise-grade, and universally respected brand-name vendor with ample support resources.

Today’s CIOs covet the power of Open Source; they want the brute-force coding prowess of the movement’s many innovators, but, without the threat of accidentally coaxing a rogue genie out of the proverbial LAMP. Nearly every IT chief is now investigating Open Source applications’ cost-effective price-points, solid security, and world-beater customization/flexibility options. The long-term goal is to slowly, surely (but safely) loosen Redmond’s stranglehold – at a pace and price that makes sense – throughout their application stack.

In essence, by working with Novell, the CIO can obtain all of the benefits of Open Source, including just “one neck to choke” if something breaks.

Who else can compete at this level? Red Hat doesn’t have the resources or product breadth of Novell. Plus, Novell’s pedigree in the server market naturally raises questions about Red Hat’s long-term viability, at least as a standalone company (despite Michael Dell’s $99M infusion). Sun’s got strong credentials in Open Source and identity management (thanks to the Waveset acquisition), and like Novell holds litigation-proof SVR4 rights – but, if you ask me, Sun has yet to prove that it can get out of its own way.

And anyway, let’s face it: the sex appeal is on the desktop, against Microsoft, and (IMHO) no Linux player of merit could stand in Novell’s path in this regard. Red Hat’s not serious about the desktop. Linspire? Xandros? These are non-starters in corporate America when pitted against the Novell/SuSe combo.

So what’s the Big Message? Simple. Call Novell if you want an Open Source Enterprise. And if you still want to play in the Microsoft world? – Go buy an Xbox.

The question the industry has on its mind is, “Can Novell deliver? Can the company recover from its series of missteps and false starts? Is it ‘for real’ this time?” and, “Why should I care?”

This could be a PR story of near-Biblical proportions. Let's face it: Americans love underdogs. Americans love a comeback story. Americans are aspirational. Americans believe that the best man should win. American ideals are embodied in Novell's storyline, waiting to be dug out and paraded onto the battlefield.

It is incumbent on Novell to wake up, shape up and shake up – finally and convincingly – because in my humble opinion, 2006 represents Novell’s last shot at lasting greatness.

End of rant.

Maybe I got some of it wrong, but I stand by the gist of it.

Agree? Disagree? Send your comments here.

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