One of the more interesting events in the Linux world in recent months was the announcement of the acquisition of Novell by Attachmate; probably one of the most unexpected frog princes to end up with the princess in many a fairy-tale year. After all, a company well-known for terminal emulator software is probably the last company you’d think of to be acquiring formerly high-flying Novell, especially if it meant dealing with Novell’s twisted relationship with Microsoft and the recent death of the long-time cash cow of NetWare. The thing is, there’s probably at least one or two silver linings in this deal for more than just the shareholders of both companies; there’s something in it for the whole Linux ecosystem.
First, the industry has shown a disturbing trend toward creating silos of hardware and software around a very small, very powerful set of vendors. The Oracle acquisition of Sun, the offers and porting assistance that IBM provides to purchasers of IBM hardware to move applications to WebSphere and other IBM middleware, HP’s relationship with SAP; these all point to a reduction in the diversity of the software ecosystem in play. The acquisition of one of the major Linux distributors by a company that is not part of that crowd may provide a boost to the ability of smaller players to innovate without the permission of the Big Six, leading to upstarts that can provide additional flexibility and agility to the Small- to Medium-Business (SMB) markets that can’t afford the enterprise software tools pushed by their hardware vendors. It places one of the widely accepted operating system platforms in the hands of a medium-size business itself, one that has its own reasons for keeping an alternative alive in the process of building its own products to support the vendor community.
Second, it’s also interesting to note that the SMB market is an area where Microsoft has one of its strongest fan bases, and where Novell in its heyday had most of its largest fans. The product set that Attachmate now controls spans a lot of different SMB and large business categories, giving them a lot of leeway to shape possible Microsoft SMB alternatives for the wildly competitive file and print appliance market. That new market would also extend Attachmate’s presence in overseas markets, given SUSE’s marked dominance in European sites.
Third, for the mainframe Linux user, we couldn’t have picked a better buyer. Attachmate made a lot of its money and fame selling 3270 emulators. They know the mainframe market and what mainframes mean to customers. They “get it,” and I would expect Attachmate to treat the zEnterprise on a peer with its Intel business, something that was never clear that Novell quite understood. So far, we’ve seen some encouraging signs that investment is being made in the System z port, and there are finally reports of open-source development outside the two favored distributors taking on the challenges of the mainframe world. If SUSE continues the strategy of early adoption of modifications to operating system code from IBM and others, we should still see a positive advantage in what Attachmate can fund (and can thus support) for the platform on System z hardware.
So, wait and see is still the order of the day, but there’s more to the purchase than meets the eye.
In other news, we’ve been testing the GA release of RHEL 6 in the lab, and so far, we’re pretty impressed with the stability of the code. What surprised us most was the ongoing problems with the installer not being able to detect disk formatting; this problem has been around in some form or another for two or three major releases. There has to be a solution to this, guys—maybe next time?