Last week, Red Hat announced it had reached
a deal to buy some of the software from the Netscape Enterprise
Suite. Red Hat spokesperson Leigh Day said that the deal has not yet
been finalized, but that it is expected to close in the next two weeks.
Red Hat is paying $23 million for the software, but what is it getting, and
why does the company want to buy software that it could develop instead?
Day said that Red Hat is getting Netscape's Directory Server, Certificate
Management, messaging and calendering software. According to Day, it was
worth spending the $23 million because "Red Hat is gaining a tried
and true technology that would take years to develop on its own."
The company will also be taking on a
team of developers from AOL/Netscape that have been working on the
software. Though Netscape was acquired several years ago, the Directory
Server software was still under active development. Netscape Directory
Server 6.2 was released last December.
It doesn't take a marketing expert to divine Red Hat's motives for the
acquisition. When going head-to-head with Microsoft or Novell, Red Hat needs
a mature directory services and groupware suite. Day confirmed that Red Hat
would be using its acquisition to compete directly with directory server
offerings from Microsoft and Novell.
She also noted that Netscape's software is in use by a number of enterprise
and government agencies. Whether Red Hat will gain those customers as part
of the acquisition is another question. Day said that Red Hat has not yet
announced whether the company would be taking over support for current
users of Netscape Security Solutions. She also wasn't sure whether Red
Hat's final product would support operating systems other than
Linux. Netscape Directory Server currently runs on HP-UX, Solaris, Windows
NT and 2000 and Red Hat Advanced Server.
Red Hat currently ships OpenLDAP
with its enterprise products. What does Netscape Directory Server offer
that OpenLDAP does not? Both technologies implement the features of the
Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), but a glance at the
features list for Netscape Directory Services shows that there are
several features not implemented
in OpenLDAP, including schema updates, server-side sort of search results,
and a number of other features. Netscape's software also offers GUI
administration tools and tuning tools that are probably a bit more
user-friendly than OpenLDAP's tools.
In keeping with Red Hat's open source policy, Red Hat will be releasing the
software under the GPL, according to Day. As with the Sistina Global File System (GFS)
software, it will be between six and twelve months before the code is
released. Why such a lengthy process? Day said that Red Hat would use this
time to optimize the code for its products, and for a community development
process. Day said that the software would also be usable with Fedora, but
wasn't sure if it would be released as part of Fedora Core.
We also wondered whether any patents would be part of the deal. Netscape
was issued several patents related to directory services prior to their
acquisition by AOL. Patent 6,366,913
was issued to Netscape for "Centralized directory services supporting
dynamic group membership," which no doubt applies to Netscape's Directory
Server. Patent 6,094,485,
covering a method for "SSL step-up" may apply to Netscape's Certificate
Management software. Netscape also was issued patents for an
automatic client configuration system, a
system for schedule and task management, and others that may apply to
the suite of applications Red Hat is buying. Day said that Red Hat's legal
team is "probably still looking into that." One hopes that the
lawyers are looking carefully, as it would not do to acquire the software
while leaving AOL with the patents related to the software. Red Hat may
also find need of a defensive patent portfolio in the future.
In the long run, this should be very good for the Linux and open source
community. The addition of Netscape's directory software and groupware
solutions will give Linux yet another feature that it needs to compete with
Microsoft in the enterprise market.
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