LinuxWorld – Jack Messman

Well, I’ve made it to LinuxWorld. I am staying at a friend’s place in Brooklyn, so I ventured into the NYC subway system for the second time in my life, and the first time unescorted.

Of course the train in front of us immediately broke down, and we sat for about 20 minutes waiting for the problem to get cleared up. But I made it to the Javits Center in plenty of time for the keynote.

Jack Messman, CEO and Chairman of Novell, was the first keynote speaker. Novell, a US$1 billion company has spent over US$250 million in the last year expanding its open-source position, mainly with the purchase of Ximian and SuSE Linux.

While as a speaker he was average, the remarkable thing was seeing the head of a major software company talking about open source. While it’s not the same as if Bill Gates was talking about it, it was still significant.

The thing I always worry about when “business” leaders talk about open-source is “do they get it?”. Some of the slower ones of my experience are still working on “how do we sell free software”. Although the presentation was only 45 minutes long, I think Jack gets it. He started off by saying “We will not change the open-source model – we will embrace it”,

He views open-source, particularly Linux, as being disruptive, in the same sense that the mainframe was an agent of change in the 70s, the PC in the 80s, and the Internet in the 90s. But from this change will come the benefit on unparalleled customer choice.

Messman divided presentation into two viewpoints: the customer and the vendor. He focused the customer concerns on the need for accountability (one throat to choke) and security. From the vendor side, he talked about companies having to change their viewpoint and processes in order to make money on software they don’t own, and to change the development model to include the thousands of volunteer users who contribute.

I thought it was funny that he did call for movement beyond the religious war between open source and proprietary software, especially in the realm of file and print services (Novell’s traditional product offering). He was right in stating that having these high quality services available on Linux is a positive thing, but it looks like you won’t be seeing Novell’s bread and butter as open source any time soon.

Linux and open-source can provide real savings in the total cost of ownership of an IT organization, but IT organizations are traditionally conservative, versus the usual rapid change seen in most open-source projects. He pointed out that this pain is actually an opportunity for companies to provide services to ease this concern.

He also brought up that since Linux is the fastest growing platform out there, it just makes good business sense. And as a business, Novell is betting its future on open source.