Novell yesterday underlined its commitment to open source technologies by confirming that its flagship network services platform will run on either NetWare or Linux kernels.
Given the large revenue of Novell, people say this should serve as a pretty big boost for open source in general. I think I agree with that, but I wasn’t too sure why. I’ve been at companies before who refused to use Linux for their solutions. The managers and executives would say that the reasons were lack of support or that the operating system was untested or that it would be viewed as an unstable base by customers. The general argument I heard from them (and from others at the time, trade magazines and websites) was that it “just wasn’t good business” to rely on something as radically new as Linux. No matter how good the technical end looked, and no matter how appealing the cost and flexibility were, there were other negative factors that went into forming a business around Linux. The negative factors always won, and who was I to say otherwise? I knew little about “business”.
Well, I’m starting to learn a whole lot about business. I’ve learned enough about business to know that there are always reasons to argue against doing something new. “Good business” is not identifying the status-quo, finding problems with new approaches, and then using those problems to beat down any new ideas. “Good business” is finding the better solution, figuring out all the obstacles thrown up by entrenched practice and outside perception, and then drafting and executing a plan to overcome them. So kudos to Novell, they seem to be trying that. I really hope it works out as a whole. But the attitude about the effects of the move by Novell is indicative of a larger problem. Why does it take Novell jumping in for others to be willing to pursue the better technology? Probably because most companies are running on seriously flawed methodologies. Like Schumpeter indicated, most of them are still built for mediocrity and eventual extinction. Open source represents a major discontinuity in terms of the enterprise software arena. Yet still businesses are looking for ways to map the new techniques one-for-one into their old models. When what they should be looking for are new models, and the new competitors that those new models will bring.