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Novell plans OS for 64-bit chips

The networking software firm discusses, for the first time, plans to take the NetWare operating system to 64 bits.

SALT LAKE CITY--Novell (NOVL) will ride the wave Intel has created for Merced, its most powerful chip yet.

Though the work has been rumored for some time, the networking software firm discussed for the first time plans to take its flagship product, the NetWare operating system, to 64-bits with a forthcoming version code-named Modesto at its annual BrainShare user conference. Previously known internally as Park City, release of the version will coincide with the launch of Merced-based systems, due in the second half of next year.

The Merced chip has attracted quite a following because Intel, the largest chipmaker in the world, has decided to make a 64-bit architecture for third parties. The technology essentially allows larger chunks of data to be crunched at faster speeds and offers the best evidence yet that Intel and its partners intend to move up the food chain into the upper reaches of corporate America with their combination of hardware and software.

Even as the company releases the third beta version of its forthcoming Netware 5.0 release, Novell executives are bullish on the prospects for the company in the 64-bit computing realm.

"Our 64-bit work is the result of a very long relationship we've had with Intel," said Ron Palmeri, vice president of strategic relations at Novell. "We think we're going to be right in the power curve with this."

As part of the NetWare 5.0 release, the company will include what is essentially a 64-bit file system in the operating system, the first move toward the next-generation architecture. Novell executives said all current 32-bit software created for current versions of NetWare will run on Modesto and Merced.

Other areas in which Novell engineers are focusing include 64-bit virtual machines for NetWare and a set of 64-bit interfaces for third parties to write applications to.

"As you break through some of the hardware limitations of today, NetWare is perfect for that," said Jim Greene, a product manager for NetWare. "I think every single Fortune 1000 is going to need that. There's never been a time in this industry when we couldn't use more power."

By supporting 64-bit computing, Novell could provide developers with more reasons to work on software for NetWare, something that has been a challenge for the firm in the past. For instance, the company's partnership with database software provider Oracle could bear fruit with Merced, with NetWare potentially gaining steam as a data access system.

Analysts believe the move to Merced could offer Novell the appropriate architecture to push powerful server systems for its directory software, Web serving, and Java application hosting.

"The ability to combine all those things into one server is going to be important," said Jamie Lewis, president of the Burton Group. Lewis noted that the company is only the latest in a long line of supporters: "For any vendor, Merced is part of a check off right now."