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Summary:

Attachmate, a privately held software vendor, bought Novell, the once-powerful enterprise networking player, for $2.2 billion. The interesting part of this story, however, is not who bought Novell, but who didn’t – namely, VMware. In fact, bitter VMware rival Microsoft might end up with some valuable assets.

Patent  Defined

Our long national nightmare is over: Novell has been purchased. Attachmate, a privately held Seattle-based software vendor, bought the once-powerful enterprise networking player for $2.2 billion. The interesting part of this story, however, is not who bought Novell, but who didn’t – namely, VMware. After months of speculation that the virtualization market leader would be the new home of the still-somewhat-venerable SUSE Linux operating system, it looks like VMware won’t be getting (or decided it didn’t want) one iota of Novell’s intellectual property. In fact, bitter VMware rival (and former Novell rival) Microsoft might end up with some valuable assets. Unfortunately, no one outside this deal knows what those assets are.

According to the official announcement, Novell will sell “certain intellectual property assets” to CPTN Holdings, a Microsoft-led consortium of technology companies. This could have major ramifications. As Matt Asay noted in September:

Novell has a rich and varied patent portfolio that touches on everything from core networking technology to office productivity suites and beyond. Novell has patents that cut to the heart of Microsoft’s Office business. Indeed, it has patents that cut to the heart of many different businesses.

As of press time, Novell had yet to respond to a request to confirm what assets are part of this $450 million package. Perhaps those aforementioned Office-related patents are included, as could be Novell’s new Cloud Manager software, which Computerworld has described as “allow[ing] IT staff to manage virtualized resources that may be based on different hypervisors, including VMware, Microsoft’s Hyper-V and Xen virtual servers, all from a single management tool.” Properly incorporated, that could be a key arrow in Microsoft’s cloud quiver as the hypervisor-based cloud battle with VMware and Red Hat heats up.

What we do know is that Attachmate will operate Novell as two different business units, Novell and SUSE. The former is broad and could include a broad number of product – those not sold to CPTN – but the latter appears to put the nail in the coffin of the VMware theory. The crux of the VMware rumors – heavily reported by the Wall Street Journal – was that VMware could use SUSE Linux as an operating system optimized to run VMware’s virtualization software, perhaps discouraging customers from running Windows or Red Hat Linux.

Interestingly, WSJ did correctly identify Attachmate as a player in this, although it speculated Attachmate would buy the non-SUSE assets to help manage its customers’ legacy IT environments. The $2.2 billion price tag, however, suggests that Attachmate (which is owned by investment group  made up of private equity firms Francisco Partners, Golden Gate Capital and Thoma Bravo) almost certainly is keeping SUSE Linux in-house.

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