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Novell to release new NetWare beta

The networking software maker will release the update later this week, while rival Microsoft's NT 5.0 beta release date is still uncertain.

SAN JOSE, California--Networking software maker Novell (NOVL) will release the next beta version of its flagship NetWare operating system by the end of this week, with plans for a final beta release on track for April, according to executives.

Release of the software, entering a second beta period, highlighted a briefing on new developments in the company's effort to incorporate Web-based standards and applications into its product portfolio and to rekindle interest in the company from small businesses.

The latest news from Novell on the next release of NetWare--formerly code-named Moab--comes as the firm continues to rebound from a series of poor financial quarters and the perception that it was slow to react to the Net explosion. The company posted a profit for its most recent quarter.

"The company continues to try to rid itself of its proprietary cloak," said Ron Rappaport, an analyst with Zona Research. "Novell's a company that's learned some tough lessons.

"The challenge for Novell is to provide a convincing migration path," he added.

Novell continues to feel the heat from Microsoft's Windows NT server operating system (OS), a fast-growing product that outshipped NetWare for 1997, according to various market researchers. But Novell executives are pushing a strategy to coexist with NT, rather than battle for dominance network by network.

"It is us and NT," said John Slitz, senior vice president of marketing at Novell.

The company could be gaining points with its large installed base due to a road map toward NetWare 5.0 that appears to be on track. The second beta will be available on Novell's Web site starting this Friday, with a final beta release expected in April, according to Slitz.

The second beta release builds on the initial 5.0 version, which was focused on delivery of a native IP (Internet protocol) implementation, a change from the company's proprietary IPX (Internetwork Packet Exchange) roots. Building on support for that ubiquitous Net standard, the company will deliver two other Net protocols--DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) and DNS (domain name system)--in conjunction with its directory services component of NetWare. New support for native Java services and a multiprocessing kernel are also part of the release.

Attendees at the company's BrainShare user conference in March might expect to get early copies of the third beta. Final release of the next version of NetWare--the original name for the software that was rechristened IntranetWare for a short time--is scheduled for this summer.

That is in stark contrast to the murky state of NT 5.0, the highly anticipated upgrade of Microsoft's software. A current beta of the upgrade is incomplete, with a second beta due in the first half of this year. A final ship date for NT 5.0 is unclear, with some in the analyst community believing it will not see the light of day until 1999.

Some have noted that the executive team Eric Schmidt has installed since his arrival last spring is hell-bent on the company's raison d'etre: networking. "I think they've gotten very focused," noted Jean Bozman, software analyst with International Data Corporation.

Novell executives are sounding more and more confident and in sync, something that has not always been the case in recent years. "Our time is really coming," said Slitz. "We are absolutely 100 percent committed to what we're doing."

The company made other moves today as well:

  • It announced that a second version of NetWare for Small Business will be delivered at BrainShare in March, with new support for GroupWise collaborative software capabilities, fax services, backup, and virus protection.

  • It promoted a new $50 million fund that will cater to start-ups working on Java-based application development.

  • It highlighted the ongoing partnership it has with Netscape Communications, which got cozier with announcement of the inclusion of Netscape's FastTrack server with the upcoming NetWare 5.0 release. Novell executives claim the NetWare version of FastTrack on Intel-based servers runs 30 percent faster than FastTrack for NT and Unix OSes running on Intel.