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Net email directory standard emerging

Netscape is leading the charge for a new email directory standard.

Netscape Communications is leading the charge for a new standard that may dramatically enhance the appeal of Internet communications for businesses by making it easier to locate Net email addresses worldwide.

The company announced today that it is developing a server product, the Netscape Directory Server, based on LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol), a newly proposed directory standard created by researchers at the University of Michigan. An extension of the X.500 directory standard for LANs, the widespread use of LDAP would allow users to easily locate email addresses across the Net and the intranets now found in an ever-increasing number of companies.

More than 40 other vendors also threw their weight behind the LDAP protocol, including IBM, AT&T, Novell, Banyan, and Lotus Development. The show of broad support for the fledgling standard may add momentum to the push to create a single Internet directory services standard.

Directory services keep track of individual user accounts so that network administrators can project traffic, distribute software, manage passwords, and a thousand other network administration chores. Managing a directory is not trivial on a network that includes thousands of users in multiple states or countries, and the lack of a standard for tracking Internet email accounts has hindered some businesses from moving to intranets with full force.

Both Novell and Banyan have been promoting the idea of extending their LAN-based directory services standards--Novell Directory Services (NDS) and StreetTalk, respectively--to the Net. The companies' efforts have been hamstrung by the fact that both technologies are incompatible with each other and closely tied to proprietary protocols, said Jamie Lewis, Novell analyst and president of consultancy at The Burton Group.

Both companies today, however, announced their intent to adapt their technologies to the LDAP standard and will continue to promote their own solutions for directory services. Novell officials said today that the company's directory service, to be delivered in an upgrade of NetWare due out by this summer, will take full advantage of LDAP but conceded that it cannot make NDS the only directory standard on the Internet.

"We're not living a fantasy land where there will be one directory standard," said Michael Simpson, product line manager of NetWare products at Novell. "If we were going down the road of making NDS the one and only [directory services] standard we would fail."

Netscape, for example, will be among the first of the LDAP supporters to implement its LDAP strategy with its Netscape Directory Server, a new and critical component of the company's Web and email strategy. Netscape Directory Server that will let Navigator users manage and access directory listings, including email address, public-key certificates, Internet telephone numbers for Web telephony products, and user contact information, such as home pages. The server will store up to 200,000 entries and replicate from a central server to matching directories on local servers on both the Internet and intranets.

Netscape Directory Server will ship on Windows NT and Unix by the third quarter and is expected to cost $995. It will also be included in a future release of SuiteSpot, Netscape's suite of server software.

Lewis, for one, thinks that Netscape Directory Server will quickly be recognized as an important entry into the Net directory arena.

"Novell has done a poor job of leading the ship to directory-based computing," Lewis said. "[Netscape's support of LDAP] is a very significant event. This clearly establishes Netscape as a direct competitor to Novell and NDS."

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