Novell's new strategy

In the coming weeks, the company will unveil a plan that creates competition for Microsoft's Windows NT strategy, say sources.

4 min read
Novell (NOVL) has made no secret of its love affair with Java.

In the coming weeks and months, sources said, the company will unveil a strategy for the seemingly ubiquitous Java programming language. That plan ties together several elements of Novell's Java and Internet push into a common framework that the company can pitch to corporate developers as an alternative to Microsoft's Windows NT strategy.

The much-hyped programming language has given Novell the opportunity to reposition its software as a set of tools for the Internet, according to analysts.

The company has already professed support for Java and includes Java-based tools and interfaces in its products. Current customers can download versions of the Java Virtual Machine from Novell's Web site, for example. Novell has gone so far as to rechristen its flagship operating system, Netware, as IntranetWare. Perhaps it's hoping to latch onto the craze of Internet technologies across internal networks, or intranets.

But the networking software market--turned on its head by the Internet and Java--is looking for specific answers from Novell as to how the company will use its support for Java and Internet standards to drive development for its software and take advantage of its server-based computing focus. Ever since former Sun Microsystems Java expert Eric Schmidt joined the company as CEO early this year, Novell watchers have been pining for particulars.

Jamie Lewis, consulting firm the Burton Group's president, said, "Saying you support Java is one thing. Articulating, shipping, and supporting a framework for application development is something totally different."

According to Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst with the International Data Corporation, Novell has an optimized operating system that could make it easier for it to address its application development deficiencies.

Kusnetzky said, "They look at it as a way to capture pieces of the business they really don't have a good story for. They have an opportunity to be a very fast platform for Java by implementing it as a subsystem. I suspect they're going to have some interesting messages for developers."

Lewis said, "What Novell has to do is to wrap all of this disparate stuff --the tools, the software development kits--into a total Java platform. That's what the market has been waiting to see for some time from Novell."

Novell has aligned itself with Sun Microsystems, Oracle, IBM, and Netscape Communications in a bid to counter Microsoft's software dominance. That alliance is also an attempt to further the promise of Java, which purports to offer "write once, run anywhere" portability. Yesterday, a Novell spin-off company called Novonyx announced delivery dates for Netscape Web server software on the NetWare platform, another key component in the company's Internet embrace.

One element of Novell's current Java push is integrating implementations of the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and support for JavaBeans components in the next version of NetWare, currently code-named Moab. Another element is the integration of the Java Naming and Directory Interface (JNDI) from Sun's JavaSoft division within Novell's directory infrastructure. Moab will be the first operating system release from Novell to support a native implementation of Internet protocol (IP), the dominant communications protocol of the Web.

Support for Java's Just-In-Time compilers, or JIT, is also in the company's plans, as well as use of Object Request Broker technology, from Visigenic Software, to link to CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture) and IIOP (Internet Inter-ORB) applications.

Strategic use of Java-based server applications, sometimes called "servlets," to segment the computing logic across a network through software "components" is also in the works. This would allow users to get files on a distant server, for example, without knowing that they were connecting to that server for the information.

Novell would like to implement Java as an infrastructure for services so applications can find distributed components that can facilitate communication between software programs.

Previously, the company has counted on applications and services to be written as NetWare Loadable Modules ( NLMs) for the operating system. NLMs have been roundly criticized for poor performance. The NLM strategy will fade, according to documents published on the company's Web site. One strategy paper noted, "The days (and nights) of the NetWare Loadable Module as a cornerstone of the NetWare NOS are clearly numbered."

Dave Clare, senior director of product management for Novell's Java technologies group, said in a recent interview, "Java is very strategic because it allows us to move into an open development space where we have been very proprietary in the past. We've always wanted the nirvana of distributed computing, but we've never had it."

Novell noted that its efforts to implement Java contrast with the approach coming out of Microsoft. Efforts within Novell are tied to bringing Java-based services into the operating system as much as possible. However, the Redmond, Washington-based software monolith has made it clear that Java will be used only as a language that interoperates with the company's own language and component implementations, such as Component Object Model (COM) and ActiveX.

The current litigation between Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, the purveyors of the Java standard, further clouds the future of Java within Microsoft.

Clare said, "There's a fundamental difference in the way we're approaching the same space. The fruits of that will show."