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Schwartz "Totally Crazy" to Raise Idea of Sun Buying Novell, Says Analyst

Schwartz "Totally Crazy" to Raise Idea of Sun Buying Novell, Says Analyst

  • Who'll Buy Novell First, Sun or IBM?

    Jonathan Schwartz is certainly keeping Sun in the headlines these days, most expecially with his recent speculations about what would happen if Novell were to be acquired by a bigger software giant - like, say, Sun arch-rival IBM. Or even by Sun itself.

    As we reported last week, Schwartz's intentionally provocative view, expressed on the eve of the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in San Francisco, was: "If IBM acquires them, the community outrage and customer disaffection is going to be epic."

    "IBM is in a real pickle," he observed in a blog. "Red Hat's dominance leaves IBM almost entirely dependent upon SUSE/Novell. Whoever owns Novell controls the OS on which IBM's future depends. Now that's an interesting thought, isn't it?"

    Those last two sentences provided Schwartz with the springboard for contemplating what might happen were Sun, rather than IBM, to acquire Novell. And it is this that seems to have gotten him into hot water with industry pundits - at least if Anne Thomas Manes is anything to go by.

    Manes,  a former Sun software executive and now vice president and research director for the Burton Group, said in an interview:

    "It's totally crazy for him to be making a comment like that. I'm sure he's going to get his hand slapped by the [Sun] board for this."

    Even if Sun were to acquire Novell, Manes argued it wouldn't have any long-term ramifications for IBM. "If Sun were to acquire SuSE," she conceded, "then IBM would be left in a situation where they were beholden to Sun for the operating code."

    "But it's GPL code," she continued, "there's absolutely nothing in SuSE's software IBM is 100 percent attached to, and IBM could just fork the code. Or they could decide to grab any of the other distributions - they could even turn around and buy Red Hat."

    Meanwhile other commentators have taken a slightly more forgiving line, assuming that Schwartz was merely using the opportunity provided by his high-profile blog at blogs.sun.com to hoist a trial balloon, at no actual cost to the company, and see how the marketplace reacted.

    The Schwartz blog was very IBM-centric, to be sure:

    "But if IBM preemptively acquires Novell/SUSE, the world changes: Linux enters the product portfolio of a patent litigator not known for being a social-movement company. But where else will IBM go? With its current market cap, Red Hat seems unacquirable - but absent action, IBM's core customers will be eroded by Red Hat's leverage. And Sun's ability to leverage our open Solaris platform (on industry standard AMD, Intel or SPARC), or Java Enterprise System, even on IBM's hardware, gives us a significant - and sustainable - competitive advantage. With the demise of AIX, IBM is once again vulnerable." 

    "I'd keep a close eye on the Novell/SUSE conversation," Schwartz concluded. "If IBM acquires them, the community outrage and customer disaffection is going to be epic... but where else does IBM go?"  

    What lodged in most people's minds though his accompanying remarks to the Wall Street Journal that Sun itself might possibly be contemplating using its substantial cash reserves to buy Novell. 

    "With our balance sheet," Schwartz said, "we're considering all our options."

    "What would owning the operating system on which IBM is dependent be worth?" he continued, going on to add a comment that has to have been chosen for its incendiary nature: "History would suggest we look to Microsoft for comparisons." 

    It remains to be seen if Anne Thomas Manes is right, and if Scott McNealy is going to seek to rein in his feisty new lieutenant and heir apparent.

    But don't hold your breath. Sun's chief executive may on the contrary be delighted to find that Schwartz seems able to "out-McNealy McNealy" when it comes to attracting media attention to the Santa Clara, CA-based software/hardware giant.


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    JDJ News Desk monitors the world of Java to present IT professionals with updates on technology advances, business trends, new products and standards in the Java and i-technology space.

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    Most Recent Comments
    Daniel Wallace 08/09/04 06:42:19 PM EDT

    >"But it's GPL code," she continued, "there's absolutely
    >nothing in SuSE's software IBM is 100 percent attached to,
    >and IBM could just fork the code. Or they could decide to
    >grab any of the other distributions - they could even turn
    >around and buy Red Hat."

    As soon as a Federal Court rules the GPL unenforcable,
    promissory estoppel will allow anyone who can demonstrate
    good faith detrimental reliance on GPL'd code to use that
    code in software projects as they please. IBM knew this in
    2000 when they donated their first GPL'd code.

    Try googling "IBM" and "promissory estoppel". I received
    370 hits. You think IBM legal didn't know this fact when
    they announced they were investing a billion dollars in Linux?

    IBM needs to buy the Linux trademark from Linus. They can
    then release a version of Linux -- open or proprietary --
    that is indemnified by their vast patent arsenal. HP or
    other companies could try the same tactic.

    Microsoft could incorporate the GPL'd code in a version of
    Windows and claim near perfect compatibility with Linux

    Once the GPL falls, Linux will have more forks than a formal
    White House dinner.

    Daniel Wallace

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