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Novell debuts NDS for NT

With its release of NDS for NT and other new tools, the struggling networking software maker is trying to keep its place in the networking market.

ATLANTA--Struggling networking software maker Novell (NOVL) hopes to regain momentum this week at Networld+Interop with a set of new tools and promises intended to retain the company's position as a player in network-based computing.

The Provo, Utah-based company launched a version of its Novell Directory Services (NDS) software for Microsoft Windows NT, announced a beta program and a road map for rollout of an upgrade to its flagship IntranetWare operating system (OS), and debuted other tools to complement the company's core technology expertise in networking.

At a cramped press conference here Tuesday evening, the company finally launched a version of its NDS platform that can interoperate in a Microsoft Windows NT network. The directory services market has become hot in the past year, with most Unix-based players and Microsoft focusing energies on the administrative tool that intends to provide a central repository for information on all elements attached to a network.

Novell also will release a beta version of the next major version of IntranetWare, called Moab. The core of this release is a native implementation of the IP (Internet protocol) communications protocol, which dominates in the age of the Net. Previously, the dominant communications protocol of the Web had to be wrapped in a proprietary protocol for it to be used in a Novell network. Moab is scheduled for final release in the first half of next year.

Novell remains a powerhouse in the server-based OS market for popular local-area services such as file and print. But the company has seen the Redmond, Washington-based software monolith Microsoft take its experience in creating and selling desktop operating systems and apply that to its quickly evolving Windows NT Server platform.

Microsoft officials were predictably unimpressed with Novell's integration efforts, highlighting their own progress in development of the Active Directory that will ship with NT 5.0 sometime next year.

"The question is: why would you want to add another directory service on top of NT?" asked Mike Nash, director of marketing for Windows NT Server and infrastructure products. "We have not seen the product, so, from a support perspective, it's not clear where people go if they have a problem."

There continues to be more and more momentum--real and imagined--coming from the Redmondians, who have said they are betting the company on the next release of Windows NT Workstation and Server.

If Novell wants to gain new customers via the release of NDS for Windows NT, however, it may have its work cut out for it. Industry observers say the directory service, which is currently given away as part of an IntranetWare purchase, may not find its way into Windows NT-based schemes because it is priced at up to $70 per user for that platform support.

"They should have done this four years ago," said Jamie Lewis, president of the Burton Group consultancy.

"And charging for it is absurd," added Lewis. "It just doesn't make sense. NDS should do this out of the box."

Novell has tried to regain some modicum of momentum, despite a recent earnings announcement that caused some to wonder about the viability of the platform. Recently hired CEO Eric Schmidt has even admitted in interviews that he did not know the depths of Novell's troubles before taking over earlier this year. But analysts said it is too early to tell if Schmidt's Novell will turn the corner.

"They're still being relatively quiet," Lewis noted.

But the Moab and NDS for NT releases do signify that the company is making strides in two areas that senior management at Novell has targeted as key to the company's future, according to John Slitz, recently hired senior vice president at Novell. "What we've done is really move forward on some of the promises we've made," he said.

The company also announced the first product based on technology called Wolf Mountain, an umbrella term for a series of tools originally shown at the company's user conference earlier this year. Due in the second half of next year, a clustering software product code-named Orion will offer users support for 16 nodes, access to shared disk farms, and choice of hardware.

The release could be key for the company, since most Intel-based clustering implementations are currently based on a failover mechanism, in which one server moves its applications to a second server if there is a problem. Others, such as Digital Equipment, have been selling clustered systems for years.

To round out the update, Novell also announced version 2.5 of ManageWise, a set of software tools to manage desktops, servers, and network elements. Rolling out in November, the new version will provide support for management of NT desktops, add software distribution, and incorporate virus scanning capabilities in a licensing arrangement with Computer Associates International.