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Novell makes Y2K upgrades free

The networking powerhouse changes its upgrade policy for making a version of its software Year 2000 compliant.

In response to dissatisfied customers, networking powerhouse Novell has changed its upgrade policy for making a version of its software Year 2000 compliant.

The company has decided against charging users of its NetWare 4.10 operating system for a full upgrade to NetWare version 4.11, which makes the operating system Year 2000-ready. Instead, the company will post a free Year 2000 update patch for NetWare 4.10 on its Web site in the fourth quarter, escaping the possibility of lawsuits filed against the company by disgruntled customers who claim there is not enough time to do a full upgrade before the year 2000 arrives.

Prior to the decision, customers had been told they would need to pay for an upgrade to version 4.11 to ensure their software would continue to work after the century date change. The upgrade also included new features. The upgrade policy was the subject of a complaint lodged with New Zealand Commerce Commission in June, according to press reports in that country.

Novell executives said that the complaint was part of the reason for the change of heart, but that customer reaction worldwide had shown that many users felt there was no time for upgrading. Novell also said that although it will now offer the free patch, the company may begin to charge for an upgrade at some point in the future.

"It has never been our policy to charge for upgrading for Year 2000 [fixes]," said John Slitz, Novell's senior vice president of marketing. "We usually charge a couple hundred dollars for usual upgrade costs."

The Y2K bug comes from antiquated hardware and software formats that denote years in two-digit formats, such as "98" for 1998 and "99" for 1999. The glitch will occur in 2000, when computers are either fooled into thinking the year is 1900 or interpret the 2000 as a meaningless "00." The glitch could throw out of whack everything from bank systems to building security procedures, critics warn.

In the past year or so, lawsuits have been filed by customers against computer vendors for not providing free fixes for Y2K. For example, Intuit in May was slapped with a lawsuit for asking customers of its popular Quicken 5 and 6 package to pay for an upgrade to Quicken 8 in order to fix Year 2000 issues.

Novell released NetWare 4.10 back in 1994. Slitz said Novell would prefer customers to upgrade to 4.11, but some customers are saying there just isn't enough time to do that. Outside of the complaint to the Commerce Commission in New Zealand, no other complaints or lawsuits were filed against the company in regards to this issue, he said.

"We are recognizing the needs of our installed base," he said. "But 4.11 is a system upgrade, and is a better product."

Novell has also said that NetWare 3.11 is not Year 2000 complaint. The company has recommended that those users upgrade to version 3.12 or 4.11 to ensure compliance.

Giga Information Group estimates that there are between 18 million and 24 million servers running NetWare 3.11 currently installed in large corporations. Estimates on the number of NetWare 4.10 installations were not available.

The next release of the operating system, NetWare 5.0, is Year 2000 complaint, the company said. That release is expected to ship by September 20.