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Novell, IBM in development pact

The networking software provider will strengthen its ties with Big Blue to obtain the application development software it needs to battle Microsoft.

Networking software provider Novell and computing giant IBM intend to share and share alike.

Novell will strengthen its ties with Big Blue to obtain the application development software it needs to battle Microsoft and plant further seeds for use of its directory technology.

The company is expected to announce plans to bundle its flagship NetWare operating system with IBM's WebSphere application server Monday, sources said. The move coincides with the company's annual user conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Novell also plans to build links to connect its popular directory--Novell Directory Services, or NDS--with the WebSphere set of tools, according to sources.

Novell has long wanted to position NetWare as the operating system for building software, but has come up short in the past due to the complicated nature of its system. Expanded ties with IBM will allow the networking software firm to better compete against Microsoft's Windows operating system and its updated directory and development components.

For IBM, the partnership gives the company another avenue to sell its application server--software that helps businesses create e-commerce and other Web sites by serving as the connection between Web browsers and back-end databases, for example.

It also allows Big Blue to further tap into the base of Novell users implementing directory schemes using NDS.

The two companies have drawn closer recently. Novell has already laid plans to offer a version of its NDS technology for IBM's high-end OS/390 mainframe operating system.

IBM and Novell spokespeople declined to comment.

Sources familiar with the partnership said Novell plans to bundle NetWare with IBM's WebSphere Standard Edition. Novell will also sell the WebSphere Advanced Edition for those who want additional features, including support for Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) and Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA)--two development models that are contrary to Microsoft's own plans, the source said.

The standard version offers support for the XML Web standard, Java servlet software, and comes with a Web server. It is targeted mostly at Web site producers, while the advanced edition is for software developers who need to create more advanced business applications.

"When you get NetWare, you'll get Standard Edition automatically without it costing extra. If you want the advanced edition, you'll have to pay for it," one source said.

Novell on Monday will also announce plans to build an interface that connects its directory with WebSphere Advanced Edition and associated IBM software, sources said.

Tighter integration may occur later, but initially, the two products will connect through a simple LDAP link, according to sources.

A good move
Analysts said the partnership is a great move for both Novell and IBM.

"NetWare as an application platform goes one step further than before," said analyst Mike Gilpin, of Giga Information Group. "It positions NetWare strongly in the Web dynamic content space. And while they had the capability to run Java before, now it gives them EJB."

The move essentially updates Novell's development strategy and builds on its already strong support for the Java programming language, some analysts say.

"For those people who have NDS in place and would like to leverage NetWare as an application server platform, this takes it a step further for them," said analyst Jeetu Patel, of industry analyst firm Doculabs.

Bundling WebSphere with NetWare will also allow Novell to mount a better challenge against Microsoft, Gilpin said.

"One of the Novell's challenges in positioning NetWare for deploying applications is that building and deploying applications on NT is much easier," he said.

"NetWare had NLMs--NetWare Loadable Modules--that are notoriously hard to write and tricky to debug. And if they're not written well, it can bring down the server," Gilpin explained. "That's been the Achilles' heel. This agreement solves the problem. It's easier to write applications using Java."

An NLM is an application development alternative that has long been used by Novell's installed base, but it forces developers to use special development tools and compilers, analysts said.

A connector between Novell's directory and WebSphere may entice some developers interested in Microsoft's forthcoming Active Directory to choose Novell's instead, Gilpin said. "People will start building more applications that use NDS.

"It makes it easier and less expensive to manage the applications. Without a directory, the task of setting up where all the applications are running and letting it know where the other pieces are located is much harder. A directory lets and application ask, 'Where are my servers?' and then it knows how to get to them," he said.

Analyst Dave Kelly, of the Hurwitz Group agreed.

"Directories are becoming more strategic to organizations as they move to component software architectures," he said. "Clearly, the Microsoft directory will be important, but Novell still has good penetration."

News.com's Ben Heskett contributed to this report.