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Stephen Shankland

Staff Writer, CNET

Chris Stone, Novell’s vice chairman and a key leader of its transformation into a Linux company, resigned from the company Thursday.

Stone had been instrumental in Novell’s acquisition of two Linux companies, Ximian, in 2003, and SuSE Linux, in 2004. Stone had been in charge of technology development and alliances for Waltham, Mass.-based Novell, leaving most financial matters to Chief Executive Jack Messman.

Chris Stone,
former Novell

Novell declined to comment on the reasons for Stone’s departure. But Stone, in a statement, said he left “with some regret…to pursue other professional opportunities. I am proud of my work and accomplishments at Novell, but now is the time in my career to do something else, and I look forward to new challenges.”

Novell didn’t name a successor. The company doesn’t expect any changes in its Linux strategy or commitment, spokesman Bruce Lowry said.

Easing Stone’s transition to his new life will be a severance package that will provide $2 million and health care benefits over the next 18 months, according to a filing Thursday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

And Stone’s resume is newly spruced up. He had spent most of his time since September at a nine-week executive training program at Harvard University, sources familiar with the situation said.

In August, Novell reorganized its management structure so that executives no longer reported to Stone, but rather to newly appointed general managers David Patrick and David Litwack.

Novell is a well-recognized server software maker whose flagship product, NetWare, has faded from its once-dominant status with the rise of Windows and, later, Linux. The company has been working to transform itself, first with higher-level server software and more recently with an infusion of Linux.

The Linux effort raised SuSE into a more prominent position in North America compared with its rival, top-ranked Red Hat. But Novell hasn’t had an easy time integrating Ximian’s user interface and desktop software with SuSE’s operating system project. The first results of joint engineering work, a desktop software product code-named Sundance, is expected this month.

Novell’s Linux business “is succeeding in a market of continuous commoditization,” said Robert Frances Group analyst Stacey Quandt. “The company’s release of SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 allows enterprise customers to have an alternative to Red Hat.”

Novell already has SuSE Linux partnerships with Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems. After months of negotiations, Novell in October announced a full partnership with Dell, the fourth and last major server seller.

SuSE Linux has the potential to overtake Red Hat in high-performance technical computing, Quandt said, and the software “already is running in many enterprise data centers on mainframes and servers in the financial services industry, one of Red Hat’s core markets.”