Pondering Novell's future

I'm still not sure what to make of Novell's acquisition of Cambridge Technology Partners and its naming of CTP's boss -- Jack Messman -- as Novell's new CEO.

Certainly, it's rare for an acquired company's chief executive to become CEO of the acquiring company. But Messman is no stranger to Novell, having been involved with the Provo, Utah, software house since 1981. It's also true that the current Novell CEO -- Eric Schmidt -- kept referring to the deal as a "merger, I mean acquisition" during a conversation about the companies' future during Novell's BrainShare conference last week.

Schmidt, while relinquishing his CEO title, will retain the post of chairman of the board and also be known as chief strategist. It's a good thing Drew Major, former Novell chief scientist, has moved over to the recently spun-off Volera Web caching business or there might be some confusion.

Novell has a COO, Stewart Nelson, who was promoted to handle day-to-day administration last year so Schmidt had more time to focus on the "vision thing." Nelson is unsure of his future because he claims he hasn't yet spoken to Messman about what lies ahead.

Evidently not too many people have spoken to Messman about the future. After giving a short, workman-like speech about CTP to BrainShare attendees during opening ceremonies, he quickly ducked out before the rest of the Novell executives faced the press. It appears that only Schmidt and CFO Dennis Raney were aware of the acquisition before it was agreed upon - even Novell's top marketing official, Darin Richins, admitted he knew nothing about the deal before the public announcement.

Messman gave no indication of how he felt about the situation, limiting his remarks to an assessment of CTP's business practices and how Novell could complement them. At dinner the night before, he seemed distracted and uninterested in Novell, its partners and its customers. There are many who feel Messman has been brought in to handle the dirty work of liquidating the company -- a chore the mild-mannered Schmidt just couldn't face.

It's possible that last week's event was the final BrainShare, and that would be sad. This was an event that brought together the best and the brightest in networks for a week of learning, give-and-take and interactions that spurred on many of us to do better. Speaking as a 12-time attendee, I'm not sure I'd know what to do with the third week in March without BrainShare. So let's hope our worst fears aren't justified and Novell moves forward once again.

Tip of the week

One of the big pieces of news from BrainShare, technically speaking, was that the on-again, off-again porting of eDirectory to IBM's AIX was on again. Gear up for a release later this year -- perhaps coinciding with NetWare 6's rollout.

This story, "Pondering Novell's future" was originally published by Network World.

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