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Novell aims for more organized Web

The network software maker's new tool attempts to centralize information on a user's access rights and other information so the data does not have to be reentered every time.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah--Network software maker Novell is in the midst of rebound, hitting year-long highs on Wall Street and delivering a steady stream of products. Now it wants to get personal.

The company unveiled a new technology today it hopes can offer a more organized approach to the Web. The new tool, called "digitalme," attempts to centralize information on a user's access rights and other information so the data does not have to be reentered every time a Web surfer wants to access a site or purchase goods on the Net.

The consumer-oriented play extends the message Novell chief executive Eric Schmidt delivered to attendees of the company's user conference here. Schmidt is emphasizing directory services technology as the means to provide the administrative glue for ever-growing internal networks and the exploding Web. The move comes amid continued Novell momentum, underscored by a full-throttle focus on its Novell Directory Services technology (NDS) and an increased interest from third parties in the computer industry.

"We've gone from being defined to defining networking," a confident Schmidt told a throng of about 6,000 attendees at the 15th BrainShare user conference. "The Internet really does change everything. The new model that is emerging has Novell right in the middle of it."

The strategy represents a departure from Novell's classic corporate focus and reliance on server-based technology such as its NetWare operating system, but observers say the company needs a technology like digitalme to demonstrate its role in networking to a wider audience.

"It's going to make what Novell does more tangible to a wider set of people," said Jean Bozman, analyst with market researcher International Data Corporation.

In light of the company's rebirth, the move to try and personalize much of the information users type in to Web sites is an indication that Novell has evolved as a company and become a distinct player amidst the Net-driven technology scramble, according to some.

"It's exactly the kind of thing they need to be doing to show off the power of the directory," said Jamie Lewis, president with industry consultants the Burton Group. "It's not about developers as much as it's about people starting to have a relatively simple and friendly way to store information.

"If people start doing that then Internet service providers and corporations are going to need more directories," Lewis noted.

Essentially, Novell hopes to "host" the identity of a user as they traverse the Net, shopping for books or logging on to a personalized Web page. The digitalme technology will allow a user to specify what information can be retrieved by a particular site and centralizes the myriad of passwords and names most Net devotees have sprinkled across cyberspace during their travels.

"We think it's much broader than Novell, much broader than NetWare, much broader than networks," Schmidt said during a morning press conference following his speech.

During a demonstration, the digitalme technology was presented in an address book format, with a user able to specify what information is divulged to outside parties and how it is presented to the outside world.

Novell executives said the technology is currently in the form of a preview, though financial institutions Citigroup and FirstUSA have signed on to test new services based on the tool. Novell will make the digitalme technology free to users over the Internet and plans to roll out features over the next three to six months.

But Schmidt said the technology may be NDS-specific in its initial stages.

Novell executives said the new Java-based technology feeds into the company's overall corporate goal of creating a so-called ecosystem around its NDS technology and directories as a whole. "It becomes the leverage point for the future of the Internet," said Chris Stone, senior vice president of corporate strategy and development.

More examples of the possible benefits of NDS continued today. The company announced Cabletron Systems will join networking heavyweights such as Lucent Technologies, Nortel Networks, and Cisco Systems in support of the directory technology by agreeing to bundle the software with its management software and associated switching hardware. Lucent also announced today further developments in its partnership with Novell focused on NDS.

In conjunction with the partnership moves in the networking market, Novell rolled out plans to bundle a copy of IBM's application server and associated Java programming tools, as previously reported. In addition, database giant Oracle plans to add its WebDB software to NetWare.

Lost amid the directory discussion is sometime Novell adversary Microsoft, which continues to grapple with an upgrade for its Windows NT operating system that includes an overhaul in the company's directory structure. The update, now called Windows 2000, is expected to enter a final test next month, with delivery loosely scheduled by the end of the year. "What we hear from customer is: Don't ship it until it's super high quality," said Jeff Price, a Windows NT product manager.

Separately, as Schmidt took the stage to deliver his opening remarks, he was given a boisterous standing ovation--a reflection of how far Novell has come since its arrival two years ago when the future of the firm was in question.