T. Paul Thomas Leaves Artisoft for Linux

by David Penn

As Steve Manson, senior vice president and general manager for Artisoft, paints the picture, Artisoft was the largest provider of small Local Area Networks ("LAN" for short; "LANtastic" was the name of the company's network operating system). However, with the constant rivalry of competitors like Novell and Banyan, the company needed a new wide-margin product to separate itself from the pack.

It probably didn't help matters that Microsoft was gnawing at the heart of Artisoft by integrating networking software into its Windows 95 and NT operating systems.

So how did Artisoft respond? Three years ago, the company bought Stylus Innovation for Otto, the company's voice mail, auto attendant, call control combination product for PCs, and launched a new computer telephone division. Ever since then, Artisoft has gradually been moving away from computer networking proper and closer to the computer telephony and communications software markets. The result? The company had its first profitable quarter in over three years (for the quarter ending December 31, 1999) and has recently closed significant partnership deals with Toshiba American Information Systems and Intel.

The difference? In part, T. Paul Thomas.

"During Paul's tenure," said Mr. Manson, "Artisoft evolved from being a declining LAN software company into a leader in the high-growth, computer telephony software industry. Paul was instrumental in directing this successful transition."

And on the heels of that successful transition comes another: T. Paul Thomas is headed for TurboLinux and the wide, wild world of open-source software. T. Paul Thomas has been tapped to be TurboLinux's president and chief operating officer. He joins Cliff Miller, company chairman and CEO, at the top of TurboLinux's executive leadership.

"Paul brings more than 20 years of IT experience to our company," said Lonn Johnston, Vice President of Corporate Communications for TurboLinux. "He has a strong general management background and a very strong channel sales and marketing skill set. He [was] a former director of channel sales at Compaq when that company was entering the server market aggressively. At [Artisoft], he joined when they were posting losses of $30 million and only showing $30 million in revenues. Artisoft is now profitable."

"Channel sales" refers to sales and marketing efforts along various channels of distribution. A term particular in many ways to the computer industry, channel sales is a way of talking about selling and marketing products to "stocking" or "two-tier" distributors. These distributors are often those who stock products for vendors for eventual resale. Distributors at this level also tend to provide on-line ordering, inventory, shipping and technical support for the products they handle.

Mr. Thomas comes to TurboLinux during a time of tremendous growth in the Linux industry. Added Mr. Johnson, "TurboLinux is expanding at an unprecedented rate, even for the Linux market. In the course of two months we are opening three offices in Europe, three new offices in Asia, two offices in Latin America and another office in Australia. Paul will be running all those operations as well."

One thing worth watching for will be how the appointment of the new president and chief operating officer is received by the company's funding sources. While a number of Linux companies are, or have gone, public, TurboLinux remains a privately held corporation--albeit one with extensive financial support from IT companies including NEC, Compaq, Dell and Intel, as well as a variety of venture capital firms. The company's most recent round of funding, completed in January of this year, was reportedly the largest private infusion of capital ever for a Linux company.

The change at the top, however, does not yet seem to signify any change in direction for the company as a whole. TurboLinux has distinguished itself among the many Linux distributions with its effort to develop clustering software, which enables multiple servers to work together to accomplish some of the higher-end computing tasks such as e-mail and web serving.

"Don't expect any significant changes," said Mr. Johnson. "[TurboLinux] will continue to be focused on the Linux server market, high-availability clustering, supercomputer clustering with Linux, and enterprise, value-added products based on open-source Linux."

email: david@ssc.com

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