Netscape will in a few weeks launch a beta version of its new Directory Server that supports the latest draft of the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) standard.
But while support for LDAP Version 3 will vault Netscape ahead of competitors, analysts are playing down the practical importance of the release. They say Version 3 still falls short of LDAP's promise to harmonise disparate corporate directories.
"Netscape is riding the LDAP hype more than anyone, so the only way to maintain that hype is to keep things going out the door," says Jon Oltsik, a senior analyst at based Forrester Research.
Netscape Senior Product Manager Frank Chen, however, defends the beta. He claims customers want to start moving to the "right architecture," where applications no longer have to rely on their own native directories, but become LDAP clients to a central directory server.
For instance, Federal Express, a big Netscape customer, currently has a master LDAP directory containing personnel information and another directory for applications.
"Right now ... there's no real business requirement to make [the directories] talk," says Don Fike, a senior technical fellow with FedEx. "But at some point in the future, there will be a strong requirement to have that happen."
That is when the intelligent referrals that are part of Netscape's Directory Server 3.0 will come into play and help FedEx integrate directories. Intelligent referrals also will enable FedEx to locate information about individuals housed in directories outside the company.
Intelligent referrals are just one of the features of the LDAPv3 specification that is being finalized. Others include:
- A dynamically extensible schema, or attributes, describing what is inside a directory that can be extended on the fly.
- Secure Sockets Layer 3.0 support.
- International character sets to facilitate directory access in different languages.
- Type-down addressing that lets a user scroll down to the desired part of the directory by typing a few letters of a name.
Netscape's new directory server also features client-initiated selective replication, whereby a client reads a log that chronicles changes to a master directory and then conforms itself to the master, Chen says. But that is not part of the LDAPv3 draft.
In fact, the absence of replication procedures is one of the big strikes against the LDAPv3 proposal, along with the lack of a schema registration plan for letting users search directories that employ common attributes.
Oltsik called the promise of LDAP a "pipe dream" at this point.
"The 80-20 rule applies. It'll get us 80% of the way there," Oltsik says. "LDAPv3 isn't really addressing any of the server-to-server [replication] stuff. That's the next round of negotiations in the v4/v5 time frame."
But Oltsik says Netscape is forcing the hands of major vendors. Microsoft, Novell., and Lotus have pledged support for LDAP, but none are producing products at Netscape's pace.
"While what Netscape is doing is good, pushing the standards world, it doesn't necessarily mean their products win," says Bruce Robertson, a program director with Meta Group Inc. "This process is going to take a lot longer than Netscape would want anyone to believe. Netscape wants directories to be on Internet time. Tough. Directories are going to live and die on application time.
Netscape's Directory Server 3.0 goes into beta in a few weeks on Windows NT and Solaris. The final product is due in the third quarter and is priced at US$995.