Novell is combating Microsoft's Active Directory, a next-generation component of the Redmond, Washington-based software giant's highly anticipated Windows NT 5.0 operating system (OS), an upgrade that probably will not appear until late this year at the earliest.
An initial beta is all that has been seen of the Microsoft directory technology, a fact that Novell executives believe gives them several cherished months with which to propagate its own directory services software for NT. The company announced per-seat price cuts of 25 percent through April on its Novell Directory Services (NDS) for NT, even though some industry pundits wonder if they should be charging for it at all.
"Adoption is very key for us--especially with the delays in Active Directory--and we want to be sure we take advantage of that," said Michael Simpson, director of marketing for Novell's network services division.
A directory provides a central repository for all network resources--including user addresses and applications--for managers to use when configuring a system. Thus, an administrator only has one place to go when users need to be changed or access rights need to be augmented.
Directory services are often characterized as plumbing because--from a user's perspective--it is a tool that allows them to access applications more efficiently. But that simplicity belies a complex set of rules that are determined by IT (Information Technology) personnel.
Current versions of Microsoft's Windows NT 4.0 OS include a domain-based directory scheme which, according to some critics, lacks support for advanced features and is a configuration nightmare for administrators. Novell's NDS for NT interoperates on a Windows NT-based network but currently must be housed on a system running the company's own NetWare OS.
Both companies have chosen to fight a propaganda war on the Net. Novell has posted a "fact book" on Microsoft's next-generation Active Directory, noting that their competitor was "caught off guard" by the directory explosion and the next version continues to rely on a domain-based scheme.
Microsoft, on the other hand, said in its own posting that the company could not provide support for NDS on NT because "NDS for NT is fundamentally flawed" because it makes technical changes to Windows NT.
Upon release of the NT version, some analysts were also skeptical about Novell's pricing for the software, believing it to be more appropriate to include it as a component of its OS, like the NetWare-centric version.
Simpson said the company had "several millions of dollars" in orders via its direct channel, even before NDS for NT shipped late last year. He also said the pace of the industry could mean a different revenue model for the service within months, or within years.
Some analysts think the market for Novell's NT-friendly software is nonexistent.
"NDS for NT is dead in the water--absolutely no demand," Jon Oltsik, an analyst with Forrester Research, said. "Novell had the opportunity to become the directory standard, but it's too late now. I predict that Active Directory will surpass NDS on a per seat basis within 6 months of shipment."
And the company's well-healed competitor believes Novell's move to embrace NT comes too late. "It introduces more complexity and cost," Jeff Price, a product manager for Windows NT at Microsoft, said. "It's hard to imagine a scenario where you would buy into that."