Novell's Stone promises to stop whiningand beat Microsoft at its own game

Chris Stone returned to Novell this month as vice chairman after having left the company in 1999. After opening the company's...

Chris Stone returned to Novell this month as vice chairman after having left the company in 1999. After opening the company's BrainShare user conference in Salt Lake City, Stone gave an in-depth interview where he promised Novell would stop whining and take on Microsoft.

You said in your keynote that you're going to beat Microsoft at its own game. How?

Microsoft has been targeting our channel. It goes after channel partners of ours and it gives them [Windows] NT as long as they'll dump NetWare. That's its strategy, and it's been very successful. So why wouldn't we do that? Novell has been one of those companies to just sit around and whine about it. Let's stop whining about it and go back to the same channel and say, "Hey, how'd you like NetWare 6 for free?" Right now we charge our channel partners an exorbitant amount of money to upgrade to our new products.

If you do a cost analysis, if you give away a particular platform, you're going to sell something else - that's how Microsoft does it. It has been buying our channel at our expense while generating additional revenue. That's what we're going to do.

How do you balance your plan for more aggressive marketing, much of which bashes Microsoft, with your determination to improve product integration and interfaces, much of which depends on Microsoft?

The balance with Microsoft primarily is to work in two key areas: From a protocol perspective we're going to support SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol] - not as a wrapper, but native SOAP protocols. The other is that Active Directory continues to be something we have to support. We're actually going to make ZENworks work with Active Directory. That's a little different from what people would expect us to do.

From a developer perspective, as Microsoft rolls out .Net with some of its services, its developer teams and our developer teams are going to start to get together and communicate more often. So it will be friendly co-operation on some protocols and developer-related issues, and of course combative in the marketplace to generate revenue. It's important for our users because everybody's got that stuff.

Are you getting everything you need from Microsoft?

No, absolutely not. There are [different] ways to [address] that. One is to cooperate more and try to get more friendly, primarily with its developer and evangelism team, where it actually gives us some of these interfaces that we'd like to have. And there are other ways.

Will you go the Sun Microsystems route - suing Microsoft for $1bn?

There are other ways, which I'm not going to comment on. They are an aggressive bunch and we shouldn't just sit back and let it happen.

How would you characterise your working relationship with Microsoft?

I know most of those guys. If you'll remember [as founder of the Object Management Group], I built this thing called CORBA [Common Object Request Broker Architecture], so I've competed head-to-head with these guys for a long period of time. When we dreamed up CORBA, they decided, 'We can do that better,' and they came up with OLE [Object Linking and Embedding] and COM [Component Object Model] and eventually DCOM [Distributed Component Object Model]. So yeah, we have a relationship.

Has Novell missed the boat with Java?

Yes, absolutely. We blew it. We couldn't let go of NLMs [NetWare Loadable Modules], couldn't let go of NCPs [NetWare Core Protocols]. There are a million of these proprietary interfaces to Novell products. Even when [former CEO] Eric [Schmidt, who came to Novell from Sun] was here I couldn't get him to do it.

Given that Novell has a strong partnership with Compaq, do you have any concerns about the proposed merger of Compaq with Hewlett-Packard?

I think the only concern is some momentum, because they're so wrapped up in this whole issue. Mergers take time. If you look at Compaq, it's still swallowing the Tandem [Computers] and DEC [Digital Equipment Corporation.] mergers. So this one will just be a big distraction. For Novell as a company, our concern is the distraction and how that will affect our ability to partner with Compaq going forward.

What can Novell do to help users who have bought disparate products that they haven't managed to tie together?

Well, they were sold a bill of goods - [all you have to do is] buy a portal. How many IT departments do you know that have actually integrated some portal across all of their environments? Name one. They just don't exist. It's really sad how much money was spent on something like [Sun's application server] iPlanet because you get a portal.

How many of those projects are still under way versus. how many have been shelved? Quite a few are still under way - that's why they're not buying much. They all slowed down so they could finish implementing all the crap they bought in the past couple of years. That in itself is an opportunity; it presents us with an interesting way to come in with a bunch of services.

You've got some good technology. Do you think that makes Novell a prime acquisition target?

No, we're not interested in that. As a management team here we're just not interested in that. We're interested in making the company succeed on its own merits.

Do you have to look outside for acquisitions to the technology you need? If so, what gaps do you have to fill?

Yes. We've been talking a lot about Web services. What's the missing component there? An authoring tool. In the Web services area you've got to have an app server, you've got to have a complete authoring and development environment. There's an interesting space for us to look at.

If you could go back and change any decision you've made during your time with Novell, what would it be?

Leaving. That's why I came back.

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