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Email industry confused over standards

A new directory that could simplify the management of corporate email addresses has the messaging industry confused about which standard to follow.

ANAHEIM, California--A new directory standard that could simplify the management of Internet email addresses for corporations has the messaging industry confused about which standard to follow, the new one or the existing X.500, according to executives attending the Electronic Messaging Association here this week.

The Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) has attracted the support of Netscape Communications and 40 other companies, including all the major messaging players that deal with directory access. Created by researchers at the University of Michigan and adopted by the Internet Engineering Task Force, LDAP can be used to help users easily locate email addresses across the Net and corporate intranets. LDAP is an extension of the X.500 directory standard that defines the way a client can access directory servers that store list of clients and the associated email addresses. These servers can either be on the Internet or within a corporation supporting X.500 or non-X.500 directories.

"LDAP is a spontaneous combustion event," said Eugene Lee, vice president of marketing and business development at, the Internet division of Banyan Systems. "The buzz around directories is increasing. Directories will emerge outside of being an application feature."

What vendors and analysts are wondering is whether LDAP will promote the use of the existing X.500 directories or diminish the need for them.

On the one side is the argument that the Netscape-endorsed LDAP will increase name recognition for the long discussed but poorly implemented X.500 directories. "Something like LDAP is a precondition for X.500 success but does not guarantee it," said Dan Blum, principal at Rapport Communication in Silver Springs, Maryland. "LDAP legitimizes the X.500 naming structure in a mass market."

On the other hand, if LDAP does everything that X.500 can do, then why bother with X.500? Netscape, for one, believes that LDAP will make X.500 obsolete. Eric Hahn, Netscape senior vice president of enterprise technologies, said that in the future directories will not be based on X.500 and that LDAP will access all kinds of directories. By the year 2000, he said, "open systems-based messaging products--SMTP, POP3, IMAP 4, LDAP--will have more market share than all other messaging technologies combined."

Ron Rassner, a vice president with Creative Networks, said that although LDAP provides only simple import-export capabilities andnot directory synchronization like X.500, third parties could well write those utilities--further diminishing its importance.

Whether X.500 will continue in its current form or how the various directories will interact is still an open question, according to Mike Zisman, president and CEO of Lotus Development. For now, however, "LDAP is a big step forward."

Even Microsoft, miffed that Netscape did not include it in its LDAP announcement, is supportive. "We are committed to LDAP support as part of Exchange," said Greg Lobdell, group product manager.

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