Novell continues down mixed development path

As part of its transition to an open-source software model, Novell will scale back its investment in some technology that...

As part of its transition to an open-source software model, Novell will scale back its investment in some proprietary technology that competes with open-source alternatives.

Novell will make only minimal investments in its BorderManager VPN and other products in favour of open-source alternatives, as it tries to create a profitable blend of open- and closed-source products, said Alan Nugent, Novell's chief technology officer.

Nugent voiced strong support for his company's decision to bundle its proprietary networking software with open-source products, and even envisioned a day when the company might sell only open-source technology.

"Open source is the right way to develop software. [Novell] is still in the business of making proprietary software, and there are good business reasons for that, but as time goes on more and more will be open source. It's the way things are evolving," he said.

For Novell, moving to an open-source model forced changes in both the model it used to license its technology and its traditional, "closed-source" business model based on "vendor lock-in", in which companies compete against each other to win customers, monopolise a given market, then sell new technologies into their existing customer base, he said.

To make money selling products that customers can also get for free, Novell is concentrating on providing quality customer support and maintenance for its products, while targeting proprietary development in areas where there is a customer need, Nugent said.

Novell is encouraging investment and development of proprietary technology in areas that can complement open-source initiatives such as storage networks and grid computing, identity management and resource management.

At the same time, Novell will reduce its investment in technologies that have become "commoditised" by open-source or proprietary alternatives, or could be used to "substitute" for open-source products, he said.

Nugent pointed to the ongoing Mono project as an example of Novell's vision of the future. Novell took over that project to develop an open-source version of Microsoft's .net platform when it purchased Ximian in August 2003.

Novell has since boosted the development team from a handful of programmers to more than 400 people to accelerate development, which is approaching a first official release.

The company also hired 22 developers just to create open-source components for Mono. Their output will benefit the open-source community, and also increase Novell's leverage in the market, spurring development within the open-source community and by third parties for the Mono platform, he said.

"There are companies on both sides of the [open-source] fence who wholeheartedly believe everything should be [open or closed source]. But that's impractical. It's about taking things and crafting them in ways that solve problems," he said. 

Paul Roberts writes for IDG News Service

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