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Novell to release XML directory services tool

The network software provider intends to utilize the emerging Extensible Markup Language (XML) standard, sometimes called the lingua franca of e-commerce, to bolster its directory services strategy.

OLYMPIC VALLEY, California--Network software provider Novell intends to utilize the emerging Extensible Markup Language (XML) standard, sometimes called the lingua franca of e-commerce, to bolster its directory services strategy.

Capping a busy period in the market for so-called directory services software--essentially an address book of information on networked computer users, systems, and applications--the company said it will soon release a new tool that will provide a "write once, view anywhere" capability, according to Novell executives.

Directory services have rapidly become an important component of server-based operating system software such as Novell's NetWare or Microsoft's forthcoming Windows 2000 upgrade to what was previously called Windows NT.

The move to embrace XML comes as providers of directory technology, such as Novell, Microsoft, and the Sun Microsystems/Netscape Communications alliance, are finding that their customers need a way to tie the various directories into a cohesive and useful whole.

Novell's new product initiative based on XML will allow applications built with ties into directory technology to have multiple "views" of data stored in various systems. The new product, previously known as Virtual Replica, as reported will be called "DirXML" and will enter testing by the end of this year, according to the company.

The product highlights different strategies at work at Novell and Microsoft, arguably among the most influential software companies in the emerging directory services market going forward. Novell has chosen to implement an XML-based scheme to gain much of the same technology features Microsoft obtained last week when it acquired Zoomit.

"We took this approach because you can't buy what we're trying to do," said Chris Stone, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development at Novell. "We decided we would be better off controlling our own destiny."

Novell is thought by many in the industry to have a lead in directory technology, as it has been shipping directory software with its NetWare operating system for some time.

News of Novell's use of XML comes at the same time that a new initiative that includes the software company, along with Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, and the Sun/Netscape alliance, is being introduced, highlighting the promise the language could hold in corporate computing.

XML is becoming increasingly popular as a way to link disparate computer systems to exchange information. As a variant of the widely used HTML, XML is simple to learn and works over the nearly ubiquitous Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP), the underlying protocol of the Web, according to industry observers.

In Novell's case, XML will allow the company's directory to work with the variety of applications currently being built on top of the technology. "What it means is you don't change your application," noted Novell's Stone.

Use of XML feeds into what some have called a "meta directory" trend, in which various data repositories can communicate with one another and serve as an overarching administrative layer.

"It's certainly the latest magic dust that people are talking about," noted Jamie Lewis, president of the Burton Group, the analyst firm that is hosting a conference here highlighting directory technology.

"It's just a natural thing to do," he said.