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By | Timothy Prickett Morgan 25th September 2009 16:53

Novell forces customers to pay for maintenance

Patches and service packs? That'll cost ya

Commercial operating system and add-on systems software maker Novell this week felt the ire of its user base, as it warned partners that in a few months it would be requiring that customers get a maintenance contract on software before they would get access to patches, updates, and technical documents for that software.

It seems that a lot of people didn't read all the way through the letter that John Dragoon - Novell's chief marketing officer and the guy who is also in charge of the company's channel - sent before getting angry at Novell's impending policy change. (You can read this letter here in the Novell support forums, compliments of a business partner who received it from the company).

What Dragoon explained in that letter was that earlier this year - this actually happened in March 2009, Dragoon explained in an interview with El Reg - Novell had already required that all customers buy a maintenance contract of some sort (the company offers different terms and service levels) along with software licenses for its key products.

This was done to help Novell and its partner channel boost their sales and to spread the cost of supporting Novell's customers with its myriad products across the full customer base, not just those who pay for maintenance through their own volition.

With the policy that Novell was getting ready to institute on November 15, according to the letter above, Novell was not just going to require customers buying new licenses of software to get maintenance contracts. It would also require a maintenance contract to allow its installed base of customers to access service packs and patches. All security patches for all Novell products are provided for free and would continue to be. Dragoon also said that in early 2010, Novell would require users to have a maintenance contract to be able to access its knowledge base and technical documents relating to its software.

The gnashing of teeth began shortly after this hit the forums. And Colleen O'Keefe, senior vice president of teleweb and operations for Novell's services group, jumped on the Novell forums with a post that tried to clarify, explaining that this change would not affect SUSE Linux products. These are distributed for free, given their open source nature, but they require a subscription already to get patches and updates other than the freebie security patches.

O'Keefe added that the change in maintenance requirements did not apply to NetWare, to any products that have moved beyond "the general support phase of the product lifecycle," or to customers with ALA/SLA licenses in academia, who get all kinds of breaks from Novell.

This didn't calm the Novell base down all that much, apparently.

So Novell has rethought its plan and made some changes, says Dragoon.

The Rethink

First, partners and users complained that a lot of the content that Novell contends is its own "intellectual property" in its support knowledge bases is actually coming from partners and users. Restricting access to the knowledge base was therefore a bit suicidal, and after hearing the complaints and listening, Dragoon said that Novell was going to reverse this policy and would be notifying customers and partners shortly of this change.

The second change is one of timing, not a reversal of policy by Novell, requiring customers to be on a maintenance contract to get service packs and patches for Novell's software. Dragoon says that Novell will extend that original November 15 deadline into 2010 to give customers more time to plan and budget for the changes.

Dragoon is completely unapologetic about this change, by the way. "Novell is one of the outliers in not charging for security patches and technical documents," he said, explaining Novell's original plan. "Frankly, the long-term viability of these products depends on Novell having a revenue stream to continue to innovate."

Dragoon says that Novell is well aware that the one big exception to this characterization is Microsoft, which does not charge for patches and updates as well as for security patches. "But they charge you in different ways."

Novell's original communiqués with its partners and users were poorly worded in that they didn't say what products would be affected by the changes. Hopefully Novell will be more precise when it talks to end users the next time, but in the meantime, El Reg can tell you generally what products this change in patch and service pack access applies to: Open Enterprise Server (the hybrid NetWare/Linux stack), GroupWise (its messaging and groupware), its PlateSpin, Managed Objects, and ZENworks systems management tools, and its identity and security management products. ®

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