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Novell forces customers to pay for maintenance

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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.

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