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Caldera Refocuses Products, Merges UnixWare and Linux

Feb 16, 2001, 12:58 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Linux Today Staff)

From LinuxToday Staff Reports

Caldera Systems has been under a lot of scrutiny of late, as industry observers and users alike are wondering what will happen as a result of the upcoming acquisition of SCO UNIX business units. Caldera executives revealed some of their plans to Linux Today--including a plan to run Linux (sort of) on the UnixWare operating system and a strong desire to remove themselves from the retail channel.

Recent moves within the retail chain for Caldera System's product line has left many retailers and distributors wondering about the future of the eDesktop and eServer product lines. The company is clearly repositioning its resources to push into new channels, and while its retail channel presence will be diminished, Caldera executives categorically deny that the status of the popular "e" products themselves will be changed.

Rumors have been flying about the expected lifespan of the eDesktop and eServer products when reports began to surface this week from retailers that Caldera had issued recall notices for these products.

A Caldera spokesperson says she is unaware of any plans for the company to recall its products from retailers despite statements from retailers to the contrary, and that while the company will be shifting focus away from retail distribution in favor of OEM's and resellers, its commitment to Linux remains.

In a brief phone interview, Nancy Pomeroy, Director of Corporate Communications for Caldera, said that while it is true that Caldera is in the process of refocusing its operations on businesses, especially in light of its recent acquisition of SCO, the company is not recalling its current products:

"As far as I know, there's no recall," Pomeroy said.

In addition, Pomeroy said the company will continue support of its current line of products:

"We're supporting what we have," she said.

Pomeroy said Caldera is setting its sights on markets besides retailers, which generally serve hobbyists and very small operations. Caldera plans to court large businesses both through its SCO acquisition and its recently-announced Volution, software designed to monitor large-scale corporate installations.

"Our customers don't buy off retail shelves," she said, noting that while Caldera's distribution, Caldera OpenLinux, was a good early entry in the Linux market to "get the word out" about Linux, Caldera considers itself a "Linux for business and now, with the SCO acquisition, Unix for business" company.

Pomeroy also emphasized Caldera's focus on Linux despite its departure from the retail market, saying "We were the first Linux channel, and we are the largest Linux channel. We're a global operation."

A longtime Caldera employee expanded on Pomeroy's remarks, saying that Caldera will no longer be a retail product -- that the Orem, Utah, distributor will instead concentrate on OEMs, ISVs, and VARs.

The company has a new Linux server product in closed beta, with an open beta scheduled to begin about March 1, and release expected in early April. While it is not unusual for a company to withdraw its product just before the release of a new version -- or to reduce prices substantially to clear away the old inventory -- the Caldera worker said that this time it's not to make way for a new retail product.

Though the products are not being terminated, their labels and ultimate market position are another story.

According to the Caldera employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the company is abandoning its "eServer" and "eDesktop" product names, and its non-server distribution will be designed to power workstations in the enterprise, rather than end users, something not likely to be welcomed by Caldera's loyal and vocal community of desktop users.

The Caldera employee said that the company has never made money on retail boxed distributions. Part of the problem, the employee said, comes from distributors who load up the retail channel with product in order to be able to report a large number of units shipped, then, later, accept many of those shipped units as returns.

Scott Countryman, Sales Manager, unequivocally denies rumors indicating that the retail product line is being terminated. "That definitely is the furthest thing from the truth."

Countryman echoed Pomeroy's comments, saying that reports from retailers indicating a withdraw of some of the retail products represents a "readjustment of the inventory." The formal announcement made to the retailers and distributors is an outgrowth of the company's reallocation of resources to new channels.

Countryman spoke directly to allegations that the Caldera "e" retail line will disappear, emphasizing that these products will continue to be supported indefinitely. When asked to clarify if support meant present-day products only, Countryman emphasized that there would by future development done on these products as well.

Caldera's new strategy comes as it tries to consolidate its enterprise business following the purchase of SCO. Caldera's plans are include an ambitious plan to run Linux atop UnixWare, and even offering some of UnixWare's proprietary technology to the community for possible inclusion in future versions of Linux.

Drew Spencer, Chief Technology Officer, clarified what Caldera is planning to do in regards to merging UnixWare and Linux. Essentially, Caldera developers are building a GNU runtime environment that will run natively on top of UnixWare. Spencer described this environment as capable of running the full Caldera ServerWare toolset on top of the UnixWare operating system?without no Linux kernel in sight.

By using just the GNU environment atop UnixWare, Spencer said that this would give Caldera a very solid footing in the high-end server enterprise market and still provide an attractive platform for developers to work within. The new plan is being referred to internally as the "develop-on, deploy-on" strategy, whereby the enterprise will have development tools suited to producing applications that fit its particular needs.

Despite the recent hype, Spencer expressed some concerns that Linux may not be truly ready for the high-end server platforms. In order to be effective on these platforms, there may be many instances of Linux running on a server. With the product Caldera is creating, only one instance of the UnixWare/GNU environment would be needed in a similar server environment.

A key part of this strategy, Spencer stated, would be the standardization of Linux, using such projects as the Linux Standards Base as a guide. It is no coincidence, then, that recently hired Linux guru and Samba co-founder John Terpstra, now VP Technology, Evangelist at Caldera, will be working heavily with LSB.

This marriage of UnixWare and Linux is a necessary approach to getting Caldera into the enterprise market. Spencer, while supporting Linux in general, sees some limitations the operating system has entering this market. For enterprise customers, "the reality of it is, there is still a fair amount of education [about Linux] that has to be done," Spencer said.

Another hurdle Linux must face in entering the high-end server arena is its lack of roadmaps. Spencer believes that IT managers want a clear and direct set of paths mapped out for features in their operating systems, and that Linux's approach of adding features can dissuade IT managers from using Linux.

Citing Linus Torvald's own statements on focusing Linux on the desktop in the future, Spencer said that while Linux is perfect for the desktop and small- to mid-size server arena, "Linux still isn't quite there in the high-end marketplace."

While Linux technology is being used to benefit UnixWare, it is not clear yet what UnixWare technology would be given to the Linux community. Despite some speculation among industry insiders that UnixWare technology would wind up in the Linux kernel, Spencer was not sure that would indeed happen.

"There are some areas of Linux that will benefit [from UnixWare]," Spencer explained, "but not necessarily the kernel."

Spencer said that there are many areas in the UnixWare kernel that are clearly not compatible with Linux, and that Caldera hesitates to try to mash the two disparate technologies together. UnixWare also contains encumbered, licensed technology that Caldera would have no right to give away.

One area of technology Spencer speculated might benefit from UnixWare tools could come from a suggestion by Open Source guru Eric Raymond, who bent Spencer's ear at the recent Linux World Expo and suggested the migration of UnixWare's strong set of developer's workbench tools.

As for opening the source for UnixWare, Spencer seemed unexcited by this prospect. He questioned whether the open source community would really care if Caldera could manage to scrub the proprietary code from UnixWare and release it as open source. He also raised concerns that there would be enough support for such a venture.

Spencer also reiterated his colleagues' statements regarding the re-focusing of their product lines. He listed several disadvantages of selling in the retail channel, and why it makes good business sense for Caldera to remove themselves from it.

But, he emphasized, "our commitment to that marketplace is not diminishing."