Novell (NASDAQ:NOVL) is the number two distributor of the open source Linux operating system and a major distributor of enterprise infrastructure software and service. Microsoft's dominance in the enterprise software arena has been a tough hurdle for NOVL to overcome in recent years. However, the future may hold some bright spots for Novell. First, the company has partnered with historical competitor Microsoft to bundle its Linux product with Windows Vista. Perhaps most importantly, the fast growth of virtualization software may be a boon to all open source providers, including Novell. Virtualization technology allows enterprise companies to run multiple operating systems simultaneously--including Windows and Linux--on a single piece of hardware.
NOVL develops, sells and installs enterprise-quality software that is positioned in the operating systems and infrastructure software layers of the information technology industry. We develop and deliver Linux operating system software for the full range of computers from desktops to servers. In addition, the company provides a portfolio of integrated IT management software for systems, identity and security management for both Linux and mixed-platform environments.
Novell is an enterprise infrastructure software company specializing in mixed and open source applications. It designs software that helps facilitate the use of computer applications for productivity, collaboration, and communication in an enterprise setting. The company is known for NetWare, the operating system (OS) that lost the battle for industry control in 1995 to Microsoft's Windows.
Open source software is a type of software whose source code can be edited by any user, and open source software is by definition freely available to anyone. Many basic open source program copyrights are assigned to the Free Software Foundation (FSF0, the most critical to Novell being Linux which is copyrighted by a pool of authors and is not under control of the FSF. Novell sells a number of programs that are either open source, or have some pieces of code that are open source. Since it would pretty difficult to make money off of standard software that can be obtained for free, however, Novell takes open code, redesigns it to make it more user friendly, and sells it as a licensed piece of software. The code is still open and editable by users, but the particular code configuration belongs to Novell. When a customer uses it, they are essentially licensing the software.
In 2009, NOVL earned a total of $852 million in 2009. This was a decline from its 2008 total revenues of $957 million in total revenues. As a result, this had an adverse impact on NOVL's net income. Between 2008 and 2009, NOVL's net income declined from a net loss of $9 million in 2008 to a net loss of $213 million in 2009.
Novell’s software solutions are grouped into three main solution categories, namely- systems, security and identity management, open platform solutions, and workspace solutions. In addition, Novell offers worldwide IT consulting, training and technical support services. Following are descriptions of these categories.
Novell's systems, security, and identity management products include applications that offer broad capabilities for automating the management of IT resources. This group of Novell solutions creates and assigns digital identities to IT resources, and protects those resources from unauthorized use. They also manage and track the use of IT assets and report on that usage for auditing, billing and compliance reporting purposes.
Novell's open platform solutions category includes solutions that offer effective, open and cross-platform approaches to computing, networking and collaboration. Open platform solutions offer operating systems, network services, and workgroup software solutions.
With Novell's open platform solutions, including Linux-based and other related products, Novell focuses on the substantial growth opportunities presented by enterprise adoption of open source technologies.
The foundation of this category is SUSE Linux Enterprise, Novell's high quality and highly interoperable enterprise computing platform. With its openness, reliability and enterprise-class performance, Novell refers to SUSE Linux Enterprise as the Platform for the Open Enterprise. It offers businesses a complete open platform that supports mission-critical applications from the desktop to the data center.
Like Novell's open platform solutions, their workspace solutions category also includes solutions that offer effective, open and cross-platform approaches to computing, networking and collaboration. Workspace solutions offer operating systems, network services, and workgroup software solutions. Novell's workspace solutions category is comprised of proprietary software products that provide customers with powerful solutions that are designed to operate within existing heterogeneous computing environments as well as to provide tools and strategies to allow easy migration between platforms to better fit customers’ technology plans. Novell's primary server products within this category are Open Enterprise Sever (OES) and NetWare. OES consists of several enterprise ready, scalable networking and collaboration services. These include file, print, messaging, scheduling and directory-based management modules that allow customers to manage their global computing environment from a single, central console deployed on either of Novell's major operating systems platforms. Novell's workspace solutions category also includes GroupWise» and collaboration technologies, Novell Cluster ServicesTM, and BorderManager.
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Novell was known for its NetWare operating system, which competed with Windows in the 90's but is rapidly dying off; now, it is the number two developer of a commercial form of the open source OS, Linux. Novell's version of Linux, called SUSE, is designed to be easy to use for enterprise customers. The idea behind open source operating systems is that a company's IT department can cut costs by configuring platforms and applications to their own needs; as such, SUSE is designed to facilitate the use of open source code on an enterprise scale.
Novell also sells a number of other software solutions:
Virtualization is the next big hope for Novell; cross-platform compatibility means a place for SUSE even in a primarily Windows-based enterprise. While the company hopes to stay true to its open source roots, it recently partnered with Microsoft and IBM to consolidate its open source software with more established platforms, thus assuaging customer fears of incompatibility.
On the operational front, the company is planning on achieving cost-cutting by outsourcing R&D (possibly to India) and consolidating the financial and administrative support groups.
Novell, as a leading enterprise infrastructure company, is subject to powerful and relatively new industry trends.
Novell has shifted from a direct to an indirect sales strategy, whereby it contracts middlemen to distribute its products rather than selling directly to consumers. The company believes that an indirect sales strategy will cut down on sales costs, and by allowing big distributors who have established customer relationships to sell its products, Novell is also hoping to increase revenues.
Novell's shift from a direct sales strategy to an indirect sales strategy can both help and hurt the company. An indirect strategy allows the company to cut sales spending, but places Novell at the mercy of a few big customers.
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Microsoft Windows has been the most prominent consumer and enterprise operating system since it surpassed NetWare in 1995. The most recent version, Windows Vista, comes bundled with a large suite of applications and features (e.g., hard drive security and virtualization tools) but is closed-source software with strict terms of agreement. As part of this Vista effect, users are encouraged to use only Microsoft and Windows-compatible products.
Virtualization, however, has the power to counter this effect to an extent. Users can install multiple operating systems on a computer in order to maximize efficiency while lowering costs. Novell will benefit from this trend, as it will become easier and cheaper for companies to adopt its version of Linux operating system.
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The code for Linux is owned by the Free Software Foundation; through the license written by the FSF, called the General Public License, any person has the right to use and edit any piece of Linux code. Novell's SUSE Linux is simply a configuration of the free version of Linux; the company takes the free code and makes adjustments here and there to facilitate its use for those Linux users who do not know how to get around certain of the operating system's complexities. The rewritten code is what is owned and sold by Novell, but can be edited by users.
The company's deal with Microsoft angered many members of the FSF and open source community because bedding with a closed source giant was considered a betrayal of open source philosophy. Furthermore, though Microsoft has conceded the right to assert its patents in the context of SUSE Linux, it has not conceded the right in the context of other open source platforms. Only Novell customers have protection against Microsoft's lawyers, angering the FSF further, to the point where it has proposed an addendum to the current revision of the GPL, GPL Version 3, called "Discussion Draft 3". Discussion Draft 3 was written to attack the Novell-Microsoft deal in two ways:
The recently announce final draft of the GPL does not harm the agreement between Microsoft and Novell, allowing SUSE Linux users to skirt around Microsoft's patent protection. The GPL does, however, say that those "discriminatory patent deals" made after March 28th are not allowed to use software covered under GPLv3. This prevents Novell from making any such deals in the future, and is an example of the sort of backlash that the company would receive by "selling out", as many in the open source community would call the deal.
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Novell faces heavy competition from a large number of companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Red Hat, Oracle_(ORCL), CA, Cisco, EMC's VMware, IBM, McAfee, Symantec, BEA Systems - pretty much any company that deals in digital systems and network infrastructure at the enterprise level is competing in some way with Novell.