As the big Novell BrainShare conference gets set to start on March 21, Novell's board of directors is considering an unsolicited offer for the company. But here's the twist: More software developers seem to be flocking to Novell's SUSE Linux platform -- at a time when Novell's ownership status could potentially change. Here's why partners seem to be flocking to SUSE Linux.

The simple answer involves the SUSE Linux Appliance program. The VAR Guy can't go into deep details -- not just yet -- but there are anecdotal signs that more and more software developers are jumping on the SUSE Linux Appliance bandwagon. So-called software appliances are pre-configured combinations of an application, middleware and operating system integrated into a single image. In theory, that software appliance approach helps to speed sales cycles and software deployments.

Novell introduced the SUSE Linux Appliance program back in August 2009. Initial reaction from ISVs was strong. Fast forward to the present, and The VAR Guy expects quite a few more ISVs to surface at BrainShare. In fact, he practically guarantees it. The bottom line: Customer demand for SUSE Linux could keep ISVs loyal to Novell, even as Novell's board considers a potential company sale.

One Fix, Multiple Challenges

In theory, the SUSE Linux Appliance program and SUSE Studio efforts have addressed one of Novell's oldest challenges: ISV relations.

In the 1990s, Novell's ISV efforts were poor at best, as NetWare failed to become a general purpose operating system and UnixWare failed to gain critical mass. More recently, Novell SUSE Linux has attracted a strong ISV crowd, but most pundits (including The VAR Guy, an alleged pundit at best) think Red Hat has enjoyed dramatically stronger ISV support.

But for the first time in a long time, Novell has a good ISV story to tell ... and it's all built around the appliance efforts. Again, sorry The VAR Guy is being a bit vague. But he'll pull back the curtain on this story a bit more during BrainShare.

In the meantime, Novell faces plenty of additional challenges...

What's the Deal?

For starters, Novell's board must consider an unsolicited takeover bid from Elliott Associates, a hedge fund that values Novell at about $2 billion. The VAR Guy's best guess: Novell's board will offer some sort of update on the bid before BrainShare starts. Otherwise, the Novell-Elliott Associates situation could become a major distraction at the conference.

Also, Novell must somehow reassure investors, customers and partners that the company is more than a Linux provider. Novell is betting its business on a so-called Intelligent Workload Management strategy. On paper, the strategy makes sense. But Novell's brands in identity management and security aren't nearly as strong as Novell's SUSE Linux brand. It makes you wonder: Can Novell really ever put all of its product puzzle pieces together to form one comprehensive solution?

Hmmm... Perhaps The VAR Guy (and partners) need to settle for smaller signs of progress.
  • First, Novell needs to address the Elliott Associates takeover bid. The VAR Guy bets that will happen on or before March 21 -- the start of BrainShare.
  • Next, Novell needs to provide a clear business strategy during BrainShare. That's a tall order...
  • ...And within that strategy, Novell needs to highlight new SUSE Linux partners. The VAR Guy practically guarantees that will occur.
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