What's next for Novell now that it owns Unix?

Owning Unix and an uncertain future for Novell could mean uncertainty for Linux customers

While Novell's ownership of Unix was confirmed by a jury earlier this week, Novell's future as an independent company, at least in its current form, is far from secure. With the recent jury ruling, a Novell acquisition could impact Linux vendors and customers.

Novell recently secured a jury decision against SCO pertaining to the ownership of Unix. Here are two relevant questions and answers from Ian Bruce, Novell's director of PR:

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Q: Given that SCO barely exists any more, what is the real relevance of all this?

A: The jury has confirmed Novell's ownership of the Unix copyrights, which SCO had asserted to own in its attack on Linux. An adverse decision would have had profound implications for the Linux community.

Q: If Novell owns the copyrights to Unix, what does that mean for Linux?

A: We own the copyrights and we will continue to protect the open source community, including Linux.

Consider that Novell's board rejected an unsolicited takeover offer from investment fund Elliott Associates just two weeks ago. Novell's board said the offer "undervalues the company's franchise and growth prospects." However, the board did commit to a review of its alternatives, including an outright sale.

Many IT vendors could be considered as viable candidates for acquiring Novell or part of its assets. For instance, rumors, jokes, and suggestions that Microsoft should or could acquire Novell go back to 2007 and at least one April Fool's article. Until now, as Gartner analyst Brian Prentice noted at OSBC, Microsoft's open source strategy remains muddled as an enabler of other open source firms versus being an open source vendor in its own right. Acquiring Novell and distributing Suse Linux would dramatically change that position.

It would also allow Microsoft to differentiate against Red Hat in a way that Red Hat could not match: choice. Most customers I speak to have heterogeneous systems, so finding a customer that uses Windows servers and Linux servers is the norm, not the exception. While Microsoft and Novell can, and aim to, jointly address these heterogeneous customers today, a streamlined development, marketing, and sales process could benefit customers and Microsoft. Being April Fool's, one has to consider the notion of Microsoft acquiring Novell in order to own the copyrights to Unix, which could be used in thinly veiled threats against Linux users and customers. Personally, I don't think suing customers is good for business.

Update as of April 1: I am not suggesting that Microsoft would or could legally do this. I am not a lawyer. I included this idea because everyone jumps to it when Novell's future is discussed. But as @Kirovs comments below, Novell has released the code under the GPL, thereby impacting the legal rights of Novell's potential acquirer and other Linux vendors.

Follow me on Twitter at: SavioRodrigues. I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions."

This article, "What's next for Novell now that it owns Unix?" was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Rodrigues et al.'s Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com.

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