Cool Solutions

Novell Owning a Word – Open?


February 16, 2008 12:42 am





Novell has acquired SiteScape. I know that you have already heard the news. The open source collaboration product/company that competes with Sharepoint.

Now that they own it, what are they going to do with it?

If you have been reading my blog, you know that I firmly believe in the power of owning a word. The question we now ask ourselves is what word is Novell pursuing.

Novell would have you believe they are pursuing the word Open. I’ve commented before and I will comment again, I don’t believe this is a good word to pursue. It means something to the technical crowd that understands the Linux community, but it doesn’t have meaning in the general business world, and if it does have meaning, it is a negative connotation.

I’m sure someone is reading this in Novell marketing getting upset with my comments, but I stand by them. Owning Open is a bad idea.

Let me explain.

Have you ever spoken with a software engineer? Or anyone who designs and builds things. Have you ever heard them talk about adding flexibility to their product. Allowing the user to customize and have the ability to choose for themselves.

Then have you looked at or worked with the thing that has been created?

Take a remote control for example. A Universal Remote is supposed to do so many things. You can program it to run the VCR, DVD, TV, Stereo, and all kinds of other things.

Have you seen how many buttons are on that thing?

Here is a clue to understanding what is going on.

Engineer says Flexible

End user hears Complex

Giving the end user more options usually means that fewer options are used because it is too complex to figure it out.

Now, back to Novell.

The word Open means all kinds of things and Novell is attempting to use it to describe many of their software solutions. The one I deal with on a regular basis is “Open Collaboration”

What does Open mean? It can mean that you don’t have any boundaries, that you aren’t hemmed in by a proprietary solution, that you have choice, flexibility, the ability to choose, and to use the product/solution in whichever way you want. It is customizable to your needs.

hmmm…..remember that discussion we just had about Engineers speaking about Flexible. It usually means something different to the person at the receiving end of the message.

Here is what business owners and executives hear when the word open is flashed before them.

The CFO hears – Open-ended costs – No budget constraint
The CTO hears – Open security holes – No safe borders
HR hears – Open to liability

The question that arises when the word Open is used is “Open for what?” It leads to confusion and a lack of understanding.

When someone hears the word “Overnight” associated with FedEx they have no doubt what that means.

When the word “Coffee” is used, there is very very little doubt that Starbucks is the company that owns the word.

If I’m going to take my kids to go get a hamburger…do you even doubt where I’m going? McDonalds owns the word Kids for Hamburgers.

But when Novell says Open, most people simply say “Huh?”

I understand what Novell is attempting to do. And it is admirable because they have never put this much effort into owning an idea before. They have stayed with this idea for several years now, again, this is something to be happy with because Novell has struggled over the years with being consistent year to year. The credit goes to the management team which is making some good decisions and taking the company in the right direction.

To their credit, the SiteScape Acquisition does add to their ownership of the word Open. But it just doesn’t work. Novell owns other words, has stronger concepts that it can drive home. It has the ability to return the world stage as a contender, but not with the word Open hanging around its neck.

Next time I will get to the point on which word Novell needs to own.

Richard Bliss

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