Novell, eyeing brand revival, aims at on-premise sharing space

There’s a new contender in the document-sharing space, with security features that should ingratiate it to businesses and differentiate it from Dropbox and other cloud-storage providers. But the name of the vendor is not new.

Novell — the company that dominated the network operating system market with NetWare before running into the Microsoft Windows NT/Windows Server buzzsaw and coming out with open enterprise server and identity and access management software — is releasing Filr. It’s the first Novell product that doesn’t build on existing products since Novell was acquired by the Attachmate Group.

Bob Flynn, Novell’s president and general manager, wants to reposition the company as lively and innovative but also reliable in its core strengths in networking and file management. Flynn sees the company’s software assets as strong but said the brand still suffers in the aftermath of the company’s rough patch. Whenever he hears from a company that doesn’t want to buy from Novell anymore, he asks why. It’s usually not the technology or the user experience that gets in the way. Rather, it’s the company itself. “Well, I haven’t heard from you guys in years, and you’re sitting right in the middle of my infrastructure, running mission-critical stuff for me. Where are you going? What do you expect me to do?” he said, representing the sentiments of an unhappy customer. That’s what Flynn is trying to change.

So here comes Filr, which will be generally available on Tuesday. On the front end, browser, desktop, iPad, (s appl) iPhone and Android (s goog) applications keep files arranged in neat areas: those available inside an enterprise’s network, those that people have shared with a user and those that are exclusive to the user. On the back end, the software runs as a virtual appliance, files can sync up, and deployments can be made to comply with security standards a customer has in place.

Novell Filr iPhone and iPad apps.

Novell Filr iPhone and iPad apps.

Companies that already pay Novell for maintenance of Open Enterprise Server software will get complimentary access to Filr. Others can get the product for $45 per user per year.

Bringing a safe solution to the bring-your-own-device party isn’t the most surprising move. Arguably it should have come sooner. Flynn said the idea was on the drawing board soon after the Attachmate Group closed on its acquisition of Novell in 2011, but executives wanted to focus on rolling out additions to existing products first. Now that Novell has introduced Filr, it, along with a dozen other companies, will try to become the Dropbox of the enterprise, and with an on-premise option it will compete with Microsoft (s msft) SharePoint, FileReflex, mobilEcho and others.

Novell might not succeed at this — the company shuttered its Vibe Cloud collaboration offering a couple of years ago. Then again, maybe the company is different now. Flynn certainly seems up for leading the charge of a turnaround.