Attachmate buys Novell, but Microsoft is the big winner

Microsoft has many, many enemies. Microsoft is threatened on the Internet front by Google, on smartphones by Apple, on developer tools by IBM Rational, on databases by Oracle, and on game platforms by Sony and Nintendo.

Yet the earliest Undesirable No.1 was Novell. Since the early 1980s, NetWare platform defined small-business local area networks. The software operating system was ubiquitous and reliable, but also expensive, difficult to create apps for, and required most businesses to use resellers and consultants to manage their LANs.

Microsoft saw an opportunity to offers a simpler solution, and Windows NT Server ate Novell’s lunch. Sure, Windows NT Server was less efficient and less stable than NetWare, but small businesses could manage Windows NT themselves (and that was huge) and could write their own server-side applications (which was also huge).

Write a Windows application or develop an NLM? Work with a NetWare reseller or buy Windows off the shelf? Use Netware’s IPX/SPX or use a network that spoke TCP/IP? Bye-bye, NetWare.

Since its long-ago NetWare-centric glory days, Novell has become a hodgepodge of technologies. It bought Unix Systems Laboratories and sold part of it to SCO. It developed GroupWise, an email platform that always seemed to have great promise, but which never could get a foothold and which was pummeled by Microsoft’s Exchange and IBM’s Lotus Notes. Novell also created Novell Directory Services, but that was taken down by Microsoft’s Active Directory. The company bought WordPerfect and created an office suite, but nobody even noticed.

Where Novell has excelled lately is with Linux, thanks to its purchase of SuSE in 2003. But jumping into Linux also put Novell squarely in Microsoft’s crosshairs yet again, as during that time Linux was beginning to make serious inroads against Windows Server, particularly for Web servers. The enterprise-class SuSE Linux was a much bigger threat to Windows Server than Red Hat or other Linux distros.

Now we learn that Novell is being purchased by Attachmate, best known for its mainframe terminal emulators and host integration systems. Okay, I’ll admit – I didn’t see that coming. Last week, if you’d asked me to name 25 potential acquirers of Novell, Attachmate wouldn’t be on that list. Heck, if I’d written a list of 250 likely buyers, Attachmate wouldn’t have made that list either.

Microsoft is simultaneously is buying intellectual property from Novell. The 8-K investment notification paperwork filed by Novell on Nov. 21 said,

Also on November 21, 2010, Novell entered into a Patent Purchase Agreement (the “Patent Purchase Agreement”) with CPTN Holdings LLC, a Delaware limited liability company and consortium of technology companies organized by Microsoft Corporation (“CPTN”). The Patent Purchase Agreement provides that, upon the terms and subject to the conditions set forth in the Patent Purchase Agreement, Novell will sell to CPTN all of Novell’s right, title and interest in 882 patents (the “Assigned Patents”) for $450 million in cash (the “Patent Sale”).

This raises many questions. It is unclear what those patents are – or what role, if any, Microsoft may have played in Attachmate’s decision to buy Novell, and if there are any side agreements between the two companies. (It’s unlikely that Microsoft would have been able to buy Novell itself, because this this would raise many, many anti-trust issues.)

It’s also unclear about what’s going to happen to Novell’s assets, other than those mysterious patents. Will Attachmate want them all? Will it sell some of Novell’s business lines to other companies (such as selling SuSE Linux to VMware, which appears to be a persistent rumor)?

Neal Sedaka wrote in 1962 that “breaking up is hard to do.” In this case, I suspect that Novell will be broken up into lots of little pieces. The big winner here is Microsoft, which will finally have seen one of its oldest enemies not merely defeated – but actually utterly destroyed.


Android? iPhone? Let’s try both.

Like many of my friends and colleagues, I’ve got two smartphones. One of them is an Apple iPhone 4. Oooh. The other is an HTC EVO running Android. Aaah.

Both of those smartphones are great to use (though it’s sometimes disconcerting when switching between them). Each is stuffed full of different native functionality and third-party applications that add to my productivity and are also fun to use.

But, like many readers of my blog, I’m not merely a consumer of smartphone technology. My 9-to-5 responsibilities include software development, IT management and business strategy. The Android and iOS ecosystems represent significant opportunities and unique challenges in each of those areas.

That’s where our iPhone/iPad DevCon and AnDevCon come in. We’ve created those events to offer you – and your colleagues – the best independent education available about those platforms.

AnDevCon, the Android Developer Conference, is coming to San Francisco on March 7-9, 2011. Phone/iPad DevCon is a month later on the other side of the country. Please join us in Boston from April 4-6, 2011.

Whether you’re building applications, deploying iOS or Android devices or managing mobile systems, these conferences are for you.

The workshops, classes and speakers for AnDevCon are already posted – go check them out! We’re still finalizing the program for iPhone/iPad DevCon and will put the session descriptions online soon.

Hope to see you at one of those conferences in the spring – or maybe both. After all, how many smartphones are you carrying around?


Exciting changes coming to BZ Media's SD Times

SD Times is changing to a monthly publishing schedule, and is being redesigned into a standard magazine size.

When we launched SD Times in February 2000, it was as the first-ever newspaper of record for the software development industry. Being a newspaper meant that we needed to publish often; we determined that twice a month was perfect for getting you the news without overburdening your mailbox.

Times change. Over the past several years, more and more of our readers have been getting the latest news from the SDTimes.com website, from our weekly News on Monday e-newsletter, from our RSS feeds, and even from links we post on Twitter.

We’ve learned that by the time most subscribers received their printed issue of SD Times, or opened up our twice-monthly digital edition, they had already read the news. Readers were breezing quickly past the news sections, focusing instead on columns, special reports and other in-depth features.

Therefore, we’re changing to reflect how our readers interact with SD Times. We’re separating the breaking news part of SD Times, which requires immediacy, from the more analytical part… which doesn’t.

Beginning in January 2011, the editorial team will continue to report breaking news on SDTimes.com, News on Monday, through the RSS feeds and using Twitter — just like it does today. Meanwhile, the now-monthly SD Times print/digital magazine will present longer articles that explore the news and what it means, as well as in-depth features on trends, meaningful interviews, thoughtful opinions and insightful commentary.

We’re excited about the changes in SD Times, and are confident that you’ll enjoy the new frequency and format.


Watts Humphrey and a commitment to quality

I don’t know a single software developer who doesn’t process a commitment to quality – and who believes anything except that he or she designs, writes and publishes solid, secure applications filled with clean, efficient code.

I don’t know a single development team manager who won’t insist that his/her team writes great software – and who would be mightily offended if you suggest otherwise.

I don’t know a single IT professional who gets up in the morning and says, “I’m going to do a really lousy job today.”

Yet software has bugs. Platforms have vulnerabilities. Applications sometimes don’t meet requirements. Systems experience crashes, Blue Screens of Death, kernel panics. Hackers find a way to penetrate networks, servers, websites, applications and databases.

Clearly there’s a disconnect. Thinking about the great Watts Humphrey (see “‘Father of Software Quality’ Watts Humphrey dies at 83”) got me thinking about these issues. I hope this news got you thinking about quality, too.

The challenge isn’t that our teams suck. It’s not that we write crappy code. It’s not that our architects and designers don’t care about security and application performance; it’s not that our programmers are idiots; its not that our testers are asleep at the switch.

We don’t have bugs because we’re losers. It's not because we don’t use the right agile methods, or because we don’t care, or because we don’t use the right software suites or “best of breed” solutions, or because we haven’t “built a culture of quality.”

There’s no silver bullet. The truth is that writing complex software is hard, and our modern platforms and protocols are very complex. No matter how hard we try, bugs, inefficiencies will always creep in – and in terms of vulnerabilities, there’s always something we haven’t thought of. So, for any non-trivial application, we’l always be fixing and patching.

Let's say it again: There is no silver bullet.

What we need to remember, and what we need to communicate to our teams, is that we acknowledge that that quality is hard. So what? It’s our job. We must constantly find ways to do better, learn from our mistakes, stay responsive to our customers and their requirements, and keep doing the best job that we can.


Hackers and scammers and spammers, oh my

An alarming message came in today from a cousin's email address — and freaked out some members of my extended family. However, it's a total scam. Someone hacked in my cousin's email address (either by guessing her password or by phishing for it) and sent out these messages. One worried family member actually went to the bank to get cash to send to London!

Subj: Horrible Trip


This message may be coming to you as a surprise but I need your help.Few days back my family and I made an unannounced vacation trip to London,UK.Everything was going fine until last night when we were mugged on our way back to the hotel.They Stole all our cash,credit cards and cellphone but thank God we still have our lives and passport.Another shocking thing is that the hotel manager has been unhelpful to us for reasons i don't know. I'm writing you from a local library cybercafe..I've reported to the police and after writing down some statements that's the last i had from them.i contacted the consulate and all i keep hearing is they will get back to me. Our return flight leaves soon...I need you to help me out with a loan to settle our bills here so we can get back home . I'll refund the money as soon as we get back. All i need is $1,850 USD..Let me know if you can get me the money then I will let you know how to get it to me.


Needless to say, my cousin is safe at home, and she never went to London. She was initially somewhat confused because she couldn't get into her email, as one of the first things the scammers did was change her password. And then the phone started ringing….

If you see messages like this, don't respond, don't be fooled. Do not try to get back to the family member by email, but use other means. Remember, the scammer has access to the email account, and can answer. Being bcc'd on a message (which I was) is one sign that it's not legit. (But if you're not bcc'd, that's not proof that the message is legitimate.)


Lasers. They’re not just for Dr. Evil any more.

It’s amazing to believe the laser has only been around for about 50 years. So much depends on lasers, from the read/write heads in our optical drives (think CDs and DVDs) to laser printers to laser pointers to laser eye surgery to lasers driving optical fiber networks to laser mice for our laptops.

Last week, I received a short press release from HRL Laboratories, a research laboratory jointly owned by Boeing and General Motors:

On November 23 during an employee event at its Malibu facilities, HRL Laboratories will be recognized as an IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing signifying where the first working laser was demonstrated more than 50 years ago.

HRL will receive a plaque from IEEE marking the historic event: “On this site in May 1960 Theodore Maiman built and operated the first laser. A number of teams around the world were trying to construct this theoretically anticipated device from different materials. Maiman’s was based on a ruby rod optically pumped by a flash lamp. The laser was a transformative technology in the 20th century and continues to enjoy wide application in many fields of human endeavor.”

Since its first demonstration, more than 55,000 patents involving the laser have been granted in the United States, according to IEEE.

Looking around my office, I see lasers, lasers and more lasers. I remember playing with them in high school and college physics classes, being totally fascinating by the concept of light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. This was a big deal.

Early lasers were large, expensive and cranky. And now they’re tiny, cheap throw-away electronics. On my desk is a red laser pointer built into a pen given away at a booth at Oracle OpenWorld. I have a 30 milliwatt 532 nanometer green laser that I use to aim telescopes. How much would those lasers have cost in, oh, 1970?

Thank you, Dr. Maiman.

Read more about the first lasers on the HRL Laboratories site.

About Me

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Co-founder and editorial director of BZ Media, which publishes SD Times, the leading magazine for the software development industry. Founder of SPTechCon: The SharePoint Technology Conference, AnDevCon: The Android Developer Conference, and Big Data TechCon. Also president and principal analyst of Camden Associates, an IT consulting and analyst firm.