Novell, Ximian: Opposites Attract

By Sean Gallagher  |  Posted 2003-08-05 Print this article Print

Now that Novell is buying Ximian, will the network-software patriarch and the Linux desktop upstart be an effective force for open source?

After Novell's announcement this week that it plans to acquire Ximian, industry observers might be forgiven a collective "Huh?"

At first glance, the two seem to be the least-compatible of couples. Novell is first and foremost a server company; Ximian is primarily a Linux desktop company best-known for Linux's GNOME visual interface.

Novell has been turning rapidly into an open-source patron—specifically on the server side. In April, the company announced it would provide a Linux version of its network services (such as file and printer sharing and directory services) as part of its next major release of NetWare. And the company has made the Apache Web server and MySQL database part of its NetWare server software.

Ximian, on the other hand, has focused most of its current products on the open-source desktop. GNOME is a key part of the desktop Linux strategies of companies like IBM and Sun; Ximian's "Evolution" e-mail client and personal information manager (essentially the open source world's version of Microsoft Outlook) is a component of Sun Microsystem's "MadHatter" Linux desktop offering.

But there's one key place where Ximian's development and Novell's interests cross: Web services. Ximian is also the home of GNOME guru Miguel de Icaza and his latest open-source development effort, called Mono—an open-source implementation of the Microsoft's .Net application framework.

In an effort to reposition itself as a network services player over the past two years, Novell acquired Silverstream along with the company's Java application server and Web services software (now sold under the Extend brand). By investing in the development of Mono, Novell is angling to turn its software portfolio into the Swiss Army knife of enterprise integration—tying together its Java and existing enterprise integration tools with the .Net world via a simple, relatively inexpensive set of development tools (like Extend Director) aimed at developers who aren't necessarily well-versed in any of them.

In other words, they hope to use open source to steal back what Microsoft stole from them—the enterprise back end.

At the same time, Novell's relatively deep pockets are a welcome source of cash for Ximian. And initially, Ximian's other partners seem willing to play along. "At this early stage, we welcome this endorsement of the open-source approach we apply to many of our own products," Simon Phipps, Sun Microsystems' chief technology evangelist, told me. "And [we] hope Ximian will continue to work widely in the community and with the open-source methodology."

Translation: If Novell were to freeze open-source development of GNOME and related software, it would leave a lot of people hanging.

Sean Gallagher is editor of Ziff Davis Internet's enterprise verticals group. Previously, Gallagher was technology editor for Baseline, before joining Ziff Davis, he was editorial director of Fawcette Technical Publications' enterprise developer publications group, and the Labs managing editor of CMP's InformationWeek. A former naval officer and former systems integrator, Gallagher lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.

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