I freely admit to being a bit naive when it comes to matters of high finance. But from all the stories being written in Computerworld and elsewhere about financial woes at US software company Novell, I take it that all is not well. So despite Novell reporting a profit in its latest quarter of about $20 million, I'm resisting breaking into applause.
I'm clearly not alone in my naivety because when another local IT newspaper wrote about Novell last week, it saved mention of the company's latest financials for the last paragraph. The rest of the story dealt with record New Zealand sales in the quarter and the rise of its eDirectory product.
Now, I'm not so naive as to not know that if a company isn't breaking sales records each quarter then it's going backwards. In the case of Novell, it might well have had yet another record quarter in New Zealand (we have to take it at its word on that since, like most other US companies, it doesn't reveal actual divisional results), but as the story in the rival publication points out (in the last paragraph - did I mention that?), the company's worldwide sales in the first nine months of this year are down about $85 million on the year before.
While still in the black, that result, say analysts, is not good.
The poor result has given rise to speculation that Novell might be snapped up by IBM. Various spokespeople have denied to Computerworld that any such thing is about to happen.
Another rumour doing the rounds is that the company might be broken up, with the declining NetWare network operating system (NOS) business parted from the products (eDirectory, for one) that are selling well. Novell boss Eric Schmidt isn't quite so categorical in scotching this rumour, saying "we don't have any plans that are specific enough at this time to talk about", in response to break-up questions.
If it did come to a sale and carve-up, my sentimental response is to say that it would be a tragedy. On the other hand, how much good does it do users of Novell's products to have the company limp along?
And being pragmatic types, most sites, including that of the head of the local Novell user group, already mix and match Novell products with those of competing software companies.
Supposing IBM bought it, its record with OS/2 suggests little effort would be put into keeping NetWare alive.
But that would be a preferable fate to the one that befell another NOS company of the past, Banyan, the maker of VINES. Microsoft invested in Banyan, and how often today do you hear of anyone installing a VINES network?
Come on, Novell, your users deserve better than either of those outcomes.