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Java gives Novell a pick-me-up

Novell officials think a good dose of Java may be what developers need to spur their creative efforts.

Novell (NOVL) officials think a good dose of Java may be what developers need to spur their creative efforts.

This week Novell announced that an IntranetWare software developer's kit for Java will be available by the end of the year and the Java Virtual Machine--a layer that allows applets to run effectively--will be embedded in future versions of the IntranetWare platform, along with the just-in-time compiler, which speeds the processing of those apps.

Developers for the NetWare network operating system (NOS) from Novell have been scarce because the NOS has lacked a simple way to create server-based applications, or what Novell calls NetWare Loadable Modules (NLM). NetWare 4.11 serves as the base for the recently announced IntranetWare platform.

Programmers used to writing for Microsoft Windows or Unix systems have been frustrated by the complexities of writing NLMs and have, more often than not, ignored Novell, leaving the company with file and print services as its strength and users deserting the platform for greener development pastures.

But Sun Microsystems Java programming language, which promises "write once, run anywhere" functionality, may bail out Novell. "Java is definitely going to take away all of those issues," said Steve Holbrook, Novell's product line manager for Java. "There are a lot more people interested in distributed solutions."

Novell remains committed to a strategy of providing much of the networking software "plumbing" necessary in the form of the company's key remaining strength, Novell Directory Services (NDS), and opening up its platform to the Internet. The proliferation of Java has turned into another opportunity for Novell to make up for at least some of the ground lost to the Windows and Unix platforms for applications running on top of the base NOS.

"This looks like another effort on the part of Novell to open themselves up and get away from their proprietary model," said Robert Craig, senior analyst for the Hurwitz Group. "It opens them up to other network environments so they'll be able to say, 'if you are a Novell shop and want to develop Java applications, welcome home.'"

"We're really creating a powerful opportunity for developers," insisted Patrick Harr, a Novell product marketing manager. Novell launched DeveloperNet, a program to provide information to developers, about a year ago and 5,500 programmers have joined the effort. Harr thinks that by using NDS, developers can leverage the network as a single repository for information and create applications based on that infrastructure. "We see Java as the future of network development," Harr said.

Craig noted that adding Java development capabilities to the IntranetWare platform--combined with the company's strategy to take NDS across platforms and the integrate TCP/IP into its NOS--is a "strong" strategy for the troubled company. "It certainly means they're not locked out of the game," he said.