COMDEX: Schmidt places Novell on the path to recovery

Novell's new chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt has found his job harder than he thought but says he has the company on track to announce new products and updates at the rate of one per month starting in December. 'The aspect of running the business has been more challenging than I expected but the technology is better than I expected,' he said during his keynote address at Fall Comdex. The former Sun Microsystems chief technology officer admitted that Novell had taken 'its eye off the ball' but said that the company is on a path to recovery.

Novell's new chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt has found his job harder than he thought but says he has the company on track to announce new products and updates at the rate of one per month starting in December.

"The aspect of running the business has been more challenging than I expected but the technology is better than I expected," he said during his keynote address at Fall Comdex.

The former Sun Microsystems chief technology officer admitted that Novell had taken "its eye off the ball" but said during a question and answer period with reporters after his address that the company is on a path to recovery.

"We have a renewed focus at Novell to deliver the kinds of technologies that people need to run their networks," he said.

Schmidt said for the next six to nine months Novell will try to stabilise its business, a phase Schmidt described as "management 101" or learning how to ship next-generation products on time.

Though Schmidt did not provide a time line, once stabilised the company will enter a "drive" phase in which it will push standards followed by a "thrive" phase of making Java the platform of choice for network computing.

As could be expected given Schmidt's roots at Sun, Novell will push Java as a platform for building server applications and services.

"The real story for Java is when it is on the server," Schmidt said, maintaining that 87% of application development is focused on client software and to date Java has been similarly oriented.

Another cornerstone of Novell's strategy is Novell Directory Services (NDS), its network management software, which Schmidt demonstrated and said is part of a new era of networking.

Schmidt also quashed what he said were rumors that Novell might sell its GroupWise electronic mail software, saying that the messaging product will be the "last one standing."

As for Moab, the next version of the company's network platform, Schmidt said that the beta version is available and future updates will come early next year. When the final product ships it will be called NetWare 5, he said.

The beta release includes a Java Virtual Machine, a Java Software Developer's Kit (SDK) and native TCP/IP support.

The technologies Schmidt demonstrated are available now except for Netscape SuiteSpot Servers for NetWare, which Schmidt said will go to open beta on Nov. 26 and be available for download at http://www.novonyx.com/. The servers were developed by Novonyx, the company jointly formed by Novell and Netscape Communications Corp. last June.

According to Novonyx, the three products which will enter beta next week are:

-- Netscape Enterprise Server for NetWare, a Web and application server which is designed to offer JavaScript and NetBasic capabilities as well as content management features and native database connectivity. Netscape Enterprise Server for NetWare provides full-text and meta-data searching, browser-based content management and cluster management to manage a group of servers as a single server. The server can be administered through NWAdmin, the NetWare administration tool, or by Netscape's Admin Server.

-- Netscape Messaging Server for NetWare, a scaleable messaging platform designed to provide native support of Internet standards, including POP3, IMAP4, SMTP and S/MIME. The server also offers remote messaging, delivery status notification, message quotas and support for Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) 3.0.

-- Netscape FastTrack for NetWare, an entry-level Web server for customers wanting to quickly get their company on to the World Wide Web.

Schmidt also made much of the network Novell established this year for Comdex attendees. All registered attendees are listed in the Comdex network and can e-mail each other or send e-mail outside of the network. Schmidt said that the network was built in one week and anticipated carrying 5 million messages, but that so far the traffic was close to 1.8 million messages a day.

At least one attendee was impressed, both with Novell's Comdex network and Schmidt's appraisal of the company's general prospects after a tough couple of years locked in battle with Microsoft.

"The confidence is coming back," said Tim Abels, chief technology officer at Pervasive Software in Austin, Texas. "They've got the experience, they've got the customers, they've got the scaleability."

However, there are several areas where Abels wanted to hear that Novell was doing more. "I wish they'd get to Java sooner [and] I want to hear more partner announcements," he said.

Another attendee said that Schmidt was on the mark in describing some of the challenges that network administrators face.

John Matthews is a computer specialist for the Internal Revenue Service who said he welcomed Schmidt's message of personalising users' applications and machines through centralised administration software.

Personalizing the workplace is "Novell's way of finding its niche in the marketplace. This is where they see their future, Matthews said.

(Cheri Paquet contributed to this story.)

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