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September 17th, 2010

Friday FOSS Week in Review – Novell & SCO Dance Separately

The more things change, the more they stay the same! During the last year we’ve become used to seeing Novell and SCO in the news, and usually they’re mentioned in the same breath, given the legal battle between the two over who owns UNIX. This week they’re both in the news again, but in what appears to be separate stories. But things are seldom what they seem, especially when SCO is involved, so we’ll see.

Novell Finds Buyers

The Wall Street Journal, in a story now confirmed by several other news sources, says that Novell has found buyers. Yes, that’s buyers with an “s.” According to the latest reports, the company will be split in two. As yet, it’s uncertain whether the Novell brand will survive the deal. My guess is that it will, but only in a small way.


What we know so far is that virtualization company VMware will be picking up the Linux end of Novell, which includes SUSE Linux Enterprise and the community supported openSUSE. Most of the rest of the company’s assets, including NetWare, will go to Attachmate, owned by a group of private equity firms, including Golden Gate Capital and Francisco Partners. The price tag on the deals is not yet known, but Reuters is reporting the deal could be worth as much as $2.6 billion. Earlier this year Novell’s Board of Directors rejected a buyout offer, considered hostile, valued at $2 billion from Elliott Associates.

The VMware/SUSE deal brings-up questions on whether the cozy relationship between Novell’s Linux operations and Microsoft will continue under the new ownership. Although VMware’s CEO, Paul Maritz, was once in line for the CEO job at MS, Computerworld’s Steven Vaughn-Nichols doesn’t think that necessarily means anything:

“…When Microsoft recently took out an ad in USA Today urging businesses not to buy long-term VMware licenses, whatever love was left was lost.

“In turn, Maritz has had little good to say about Microsoft lately. I’d go so far to say that VMware/Novell will probably have less to do with Microsoft than Novell does on its own these days.”

Novell has been actively seeking a buyer since at least March. According to Matt Asay at Gigaom, part of the problem has been in determining the value of the company’s formidable patent portfolio:

“Novell has a rich and varied patent portfolio that touches on everything from core networking technology to office productivity suites and beyond. Novell has patents that cut to the heart of Microsoft’s Office business. Indeed, it has patents that cut to the heart of many different businesses.

“This is why Red Hat has remained interested in Novell, despite a lack of competitive threat from SUSE. At all. In a world of rough-and-tumble patent litigation, Red Hat can’t continue to bring vague rally-the-troops, anti-patent jingoism to a knife fight. Yes, it has done well to support the Open Invention Network and other patent collectives, but having its own defensive patent war chest would go a long way toward securing its thriving Linux, virtualization, and middleware businesses from latent patent suits.”

Unfortunately, the sale of Novell at this time might be problematic to those of us who want to see another FOSS story just go away, for it puts a cloud over the whole Novell/SCO/UNIX situation. Ironically, bankrupt SCO also shows up in the news this week.

SCO Hangs “For Sale” Sign on UNIX Assets

Although common sense would indicate that Novell would continue to be a functioning entity long after the SCO was pushing up daisies, it appears as if the Linux distributor turned litigator might still be trying to figure out a way of having the last laugh. On Wednesday SCO issued a press release announcing the auction of all of their UNIX assets:

“The SCO Group…a leading provider of UNIX software technology, today announced that it is pursuing a sale of substantially all of the assets of its UNIX business, including certain UNIX system V software products and related services. The asset sale will be free and clear of liens and encumbrances pursuant to Section 363 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.”

The trouble is, the deal isn’t done yet between Novell and SCO concerning copyrights and UNIX. The question now arises: will whoever inherits Novell’s UNIX rights be willing to continue fighting in court, or will SCO pull a rabbit out of the hat and end up with UNIX copyrights, which would enable them to continue with their litigation against IBM?

Grocklaw’s Pamela Jones has similar concerns:

“My question is, might the timing of all this be connected with the rumored sale of Novell? Not to be cynical, but with SCO, I always assume there will be vultures.”

Time will tell.

Situation Worsens For Mandriva

French Linux distro Mandriva is another step closer to failure. Once the darling child of the desktop Linux world, known for being both easy to install and use, Mandriva (originally known as Mandrake) now seems to be running on fumes.

According to an article posted yesterday on Frederik’s Blog, new management at Mandriva has announced they’re closing Edge-IT, a company the distro maker acquired several years back. Evidently, most of those working on the various Mandriva Linux flavors were Edge-IT employees, so this leaves Mandriva with few developers on payroll:

“As is summarized by a mailing list post, Mandriva as being a distribution developed by a company and paid employees, is now an empty box. There is no more head in charge of the future direction of the distribution, who can take the necessary decisions for new releases. It looks like no more paid employees are working on GNOME and KDE packaging, and most people working on the installer and Mandriva’s configuration tools are gone. Looking at the SVN commit history it seems like the members of the security team are almost the only paid employees still working on the distribution. One can safely say that Mandriva is now de facto already a community developed distribution.”

How this will affect the various Mandriva forks, like PCLinuxOS and Unity Linux, remains to be seen.

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That’s it for this week. Have a wonderful weekend! I’ll see you Monday. Until then, may the FOSS be with you…

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

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