More sharing at Novell user meeting

The story of Novell over the past half-decade has been one of apparent changes of direction.

The story of Novell over the past half-decade has been one of apparent changes of direction.

There has recently been excitement around its annual Brainshare user conference in home town Salt Lake City. At Brainshare last week the boss, Jack Messman, stood up and said the company was going to ride Linux all the way to the data centre. This wasn’t going to mean the end of NetWare, the network operating system on which the company was built, but the addition of Linux.

The whole presentation – with accompanying “Novell is back” slogan – has the ring of familiarity about it. Novell is given to loud proclamations of having found a new way forward as it tries to resist irrelevancy.

The company was once almost a peer of Microsoft, as the two competed for the network operating system market. We all know what happened there: Windows won hands down, and Novell made do with a dwindling customer population at mainly large organisations where NetWare remained a key file and print server.

The trend with many of those customers, such as Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland, was for Windows servers to infiltrate as application hosts, while Novell’s directory and administration products provided the management functionality, in preference to Microsoft’s comparatively new Active Directory.

The growing appreciation for Novell Directory Services (NDS) and the decline of NetWare led to one of the company’s earlier rallying cries: no longer would it be an operating system company, but a directory one. NDS was rechristened eDirectory, and the company realigned itself to a new network, the internet. That was four years ago.

Last year it first latched on to Linux, and the reporting from Brainshare 2003 sounded eerily like what we’re hearing from the latest user conference.

"We see Linux as a good migration path for NetWare users,” Messman said in 2003; he outlined plans to migrate NetWare file and print, collaboration and security services to the OS.

A year on, Linux is still the rallying cry, but the company can proclaim it with greater authority, having bought Linux distributors Ximian and SuSE in the past year. But the promised products are still not quite here; they can be expected by the end of the year.

Well before then, however, is expected GroupWise 6.5 for Linux. GroupWise is Novell’s messaging and collaboration software, and the 6.5 version for SuSE and Red Hat Linux is promised by the end of this month. So far it’s been available just for NetWare, Windows NT and Windows 2000.

At Auckland University of Technology, the new version will enable the institution’s 400 to 500 Macintosh users to join the GroupWise fun, which the institution finds more immediately significant than Novell’s other Linux moves. Not that AUT is unhappy about those.

Anything that reduces cost -- as the likely bundling of the SuSE server product with NetWare services promises -- has to be good for customers. But Novell should give up on those "We're back" messages. People might begin to doubt them.

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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