Novell's £125m purchase of SuSE, the world's second largest commercial Linux distributor, will allow the company to offer its millions of Netware users a migration path to the open source operating system.
Users will also benefit from a significant increase in the number of development and support staff working on the Linux distribution, according to Juergen Geck, chief technical officer at SuSE.
More than 1,000 Novell engineers and support staff will supplement SuSE's existing team of 50, he added.
Jack Messman, chairman and chief executive at Novell, said the takeover would allow corporate users to choose Linux "without the anxiety over whether an open source solution can be relied on for mission-critical functions."
Messman stressed his aim was not to displace Microsoft. Novell pursued this strategy in the mid-1990s when it owned the Wordperfect office productivity suite but the attempt ended in failure.
However, Chris Stone, Novell's vice-chairman, said the SuSE acquisition offered users of Microsoft Exchange 5.5, for which support will cease in December, an alternative upgrade path.
In May, Nottingham City Council completed the roll out of a new e-mail system for 7,000 users based on SuSE Linux, at a cost of just £5 per user. Analyst firm Gartner said migrating from Exchange 5.5 to the new Exchange 2003 release could cost between £35 and £55 per user mailbox, although early adopters of the new Microsoft product have told Computer Weekly that the costs are considerably less.
Novell has also been paying close attention to Red Hat, the leading commercial Linux distributor, which last week said it would end support for the free version of its product in a bid to encourage users to buy the enterprise version.
Gartner said Linux users should view the Novell acquisition as an opportunity to consider an alternative to Red Hat, which it said had imposed restrictive licensing pressures with its distribution of Linux.
Gartner said Novell's acquisition of SuSE would accelerate the adoption of Linux thanks to the size of Novell's sales channels, driving the open source operating system not just in large enterprises but also in mid-size firms.
Graham Taylor, director of supplier and user group Open Forum Europe, said the acquisition fitted in with Novell's strategy to offer a full set of Linux components from the desktop to the server. "The acquisition represents another step forward in making Linux viable for business."
Few details have been released about Novell's plans for SuSE, but Taylor said the acquisition would give SuSE a deeper sales and support channel, which he said would benefit enterprise users.
Gary Barnett, an analyst at Ovum, said, "It will be interesting to see how Novell moves its Netware operating system to Linux." Barnett said if Novell could develop a simple migration path for existing users, the SuSE acquisition could give Netware systems a new lease of life.
"As long as Novell can provide suitable systems management tools, SuSE could be deployed as a replacement file and print server in Netware installations," he said. "This would stem the flood of users moving away from Netware to Microsoft Windows."
Novell's installed base
Four million servers running Netware
95 million PCs linked to a Netware network