Netware 7, due to be released in autumn 2004, will incorporate a set of Novell services, such as file and print and collaboration, that can run on either a Netware or a Linux kernel.
Shackling Netware services to the non-proprietary Linux operating system could help Novell retain its large installed user base while appealing to open source users and those considering a move away from a Sun Unix-based platform or a Microsoft platform.
John Enck, vice-president of server and directory strategies at analyst firm Gartner, said Novell would probably support mainstream Linux distributions such as SuSE and Red Hat, and migrating to Linux would not be an issue for Netware users.
"In terms of migration from a Netware-based product to a Linux-based product, Novell already offers all of the data migration tools that will be needed," said Enck. He pointed out that other Novell products such as Zenworks and eDirectory are already multiplatform and can run on Netware, Linux, Windows, Solaris, HP-UX and AIX.
"The Linux move is a nice counterbalance to Microsoft Windows Server - users who do not want to run Windows or other proprietary operating systems such as Netware now have another option," said Enck. "Novell is not backing off of Netware, it is simply offering another choice."
Ashim Pal, vice-president at analyst firm Meta Group, said, "Don't interpret this as 'Netware is dead' - that is absolutely not the case."
While its share of the operating system market has fallen significantly in recent years, Pal said there are about one million end-users on Netware in the UK, many in the public sector.
Pal said the move would make sticking with Netware more appealing for existing users. Those leaning towards Microsoft for services such as file and print are being offered "an economic alternative" to stay put, he said.
However, Gary Barnett, an analyst with Ovum, said there was "a huge cost" in migrating to Linux and warned that by embracing Linux Novell could be shooting itself in the foot. "Novell is running a risk of creating an exit point from its operating system," he said.
For Barnett, Novell's choice of Linux distribution will be key. There have been suggestions that Novell might create its own but Barnett said this would be inadvisable due to the number of existing distributions available. He also said that if Novell chooses a distribution such as Red Hat it would have to ask how much value it is adding.
For most file and print users it will be irrelevant whether they are running on a Netware or a Linux kernel. Barnett also pointed out that most Linux distributions already come with pretty good file and print capabilities.
"I am not convinced this is going to deliver Novell any major new revenues or have an impact on Linux adoption. I don't think this is the point where Novell's fortunes change for the better," said Barnett.