SuSE founder leaves Novell amid restructuring
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A week after cutting jobs and operations to better focus on its SuSE Linux line, Novell has lost one of the founders of its flagship operating system product.

Hubert Mantel, one of four original founders of the Nuremberg, Germany, company acquired by Novell in January 2004 for $210 million, announced his resignation in a mass e-mailing.

"I just decided to leave SuSE/Novell," he wrote in a message on a SuSE mailing list circulated Wednesday. "This is not [any] longer the company I founded 13 years ago."

For Novell, the loss of yet another SuSE executive - the third this year - was the latest indicator of the difficulties faced by the company in making good on its gamble to market its brand of Linux as a desktop challenger to the predominant Windows OS.

Mantel, who did not reply to requests for further comment sent to his German e-mail account, avoided giving specific reasons for his departure other than to suggest Novell would "find a competent successor very quickly."

Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry confirmed Mantel had quit, but also refused to elaborate.

"As a matter of policy, we don't comment on decisions by individual employees to depart the company," he said. But "we don't anticipate that this will have a negative impact on either our [Linux development] strategy or our ability to execute on that strategy."

Of SuSE's four original founders - Mantel, Burchard Steinbild, Roland Dyroff and Thomas Fehr - only Mantel and Fehr stayed with the company after its acquisition by Novell. Lowry said Fehr remains with the company, working in Linux development.

Mantel's denouement comes just one month after Petra Heinrich stepped down from Novell's German operations as both chief of Europe, Middle East and Asia operations for Novell and SuSE channel development. Heinrich was preceded by onetime SuSE President Richard Seibt, who exited in May.

"It's another in a long line of people who came from SuSE to Novell who have left," said Steven Vaughan-Nichols, editor of eWeek.com's Linux and open source center. "Personally, I'm sorry any of them are going."

The apparent shedding of the SuSE old guard also coincides with Novell's recent release of version 10.0 of its SuSE Linux desktop. Although critically acclaimed, the latest version of the freely distributed challenger to the predominant Windows operating system remains a distant No. 2 in Linux flavors behind No. 1 RedHat.

Observers note that Novell continues to be well-staffed with technical talent familiar with Linux, not only from SuSE but from its 2003 acquisition of Boston's Ximian, a Linux desktop and server company.

And Bruce Perens, a Berkeley, Calif.-based Linux developer and spokesman for the "open source" programming community backing the freely distributed operating system, sees no reason to be concerned about Novell's long-term commitment to its SuSE line.

"True, they were planning on getting a big piece of the RedHat pie, and that hasn't happened," he said. "But they aren't giving up on Linux. They needed to restructure, and they are - and the company is realizing that Linux could be a much longer term to making a profit than they thought."

On Nov. 2, Novell confirmed reports that it was slashing its work force 10 percent, or by 600 jobs. About 200 employees were targeted in Utah. Novell, founded in Provo, moved its corporate headquarters to Waltham, Mass., in 2004.

The restructuring is expected to save Novell more than $110 million annually, allowing it to concentrate its business more on Linux, open source and identity and resource-management markets.

News of Mantel's resignation broke late Wednesday afternoon as trading closed. In after-hours trading, Novell stock was off 3 cents at $7.47 per share.