Bid for Novell Could Jump-Start Tech M&A

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Barron’s: WHERE THE HECK ARE ALL THE TECH DEALS? A widespread prediction heading into 2010 was that tech was set for major consolidation. Many of the pieces seemed to be in place. Corporate tech spending appeared ready to rebound from a nasty 2009. Thanks in part to widespread cost-cutting, info earnings were prepared for healthy improvement, approved even with only modest top-line gains. Industry balance sheets bulged with cash. Private-equity investors, who spent 2009 in hibernation, seemed due to re-emerge, and capital markets appeared to be thawing, at least a little.

All of that is still true. But not much M&A action is evident — yet — although there was a signal last week that the ice might be breaking. The private-equity firm Elliott Associates bid $2 billion for Novell (ticker: NOVL), a computer-networking pioneer. Started in 1979 as a hardware maker, the company soon refocused on software, introducing the product that would come to define it — NetWare network operating-system software — in 1983. While NetWare for years dominated the networking OS market, Novell has struggled to find another hit, and NetWare is now something of an antique.

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Martin Swinney

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