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Novell talks server-side Java

With Novell's business focused on server-based software, it would seem the company may be able to ride the Java wave.

SAN FRANCISCO--Novell (NOVL) is placing a bet on Java at the only table it can, but executives from inside the firm and elsewhere admit that the market's advancement is too slow and too controlled.

It's no surprise that Novell is embracing Java--current chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt is thought of as a Java guru in the industry based on his many years at Sun Microsystems. Furthermore, the company he now works for is known to have a dearth of easy-to-use application development options, making Java the right opportunity at the right time for the company.

Schmidt found himself at ground zero of the Java revolution today, among the participants in a roundtable at the JavaOne conference, expounding on the opportunity in the server-side market for the programming language. This after a similar endorsement earlier this week at Novell's own BrainShare user conference.

Much has been made of using Java to "update" older applications for the Net era, but Schmidt believes a new breed of development will catapult Java to the upper reaches of corporate America.

"The most interesting opportunity is to build new Java applications that take advantage of the paradigm," Schmidt said.

Based on the emerging fragmented reality of Java on the desktop, many believe the server is where an actual money-making industry based on the language can thrive. With Novell's business focused on server-based software, particularly its NetWare operating system and related services, it would seem the company may be able to ride the Java wave.

"It's a good thing to be doing," said Jamie Lewis, president of the Burton Group. "NetWare needs a way to leverage some of its services."

Adds Bob Sakakeeny, analyst with the Aberdeen Group: "All the noise has been on the client side, but all the work's being done on the server side."

The next version of NetWare, due this summer, will include a native implementation of the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), the software layer that allows Java applications to be executed. Executives claim they have the fastest JVM implementation in the world.

But Lewis said the company's Java play is "not entirely within its control." Like the current hubbub surrounding Java on clients, the analyst said the emerging server-side opportunity for the cross-platform programming language could easily fall victim to a similar fragmentation, akin to the variety of Unix "flavors" on the market today.

"A lot remains to be proven," Lewis said, noting that any significant market will start to present itself in two to three years.

Even Novell executives believe there needs to be changes in the manner in which Sun governs the Java industry in order for the server-based Java market to grow.

"This is a control issue," said Chris Stone, senior vice president of corporate strategy and development for Novell. "Java will probably be a lot more successful if there is less control.

"If there is a market for Java, the server is where it is," Stone continued. "I want them to pay more attention to server-side issues. We want to work with Sun to make Java happen on the server but there's got to be some give and take."

Stone was critical of the lack of server-side interfaces in current Java development kits (JDK), but he noted that Java is no panacea for Novell, which has recently gone through a spate of fiscal woes. "It's a key part of our strategy, but it's not a savior," he said.

Others echoed Stone's sentiments, toeing the line between interoperability and timely creation. "We've got to have a fast level of innovation," said Todd Reece, systems technology center and networked systems architecture general manager at Hewlett-Packard, speaking at JavaOne. "We can't just have one controlled standard, but we do need to keep that compatibility."

For Novell, the sooner server-based Java applications become prevalent, the better, since the firm can then leverage the existence of that software to articulate an application serving story for NetWare, classically thought of as a file and print and network services operating system.

As an example, the information technology department at Clemson University has recently focused resources on developing a Web-based programming group that will begin to build Java-based applications, according to Jay Henson, a Windows NT administrator for the institution who was among the attendees at this week's BrainShare. Fruits of that are expected within a year, he said.

Novell's opportunity may lie in this type of focus. At Clemson, Microsoft's Windows NT server operating system began to seep into the organization for Web-based applications due to Novell's lack of support for Web-based programming. Clemson currently has 10 production NT boxes. With Novell placing a new emphasis on Java, Clemson will likely add to its 100-server investment in NetWare, he said.

"It's going to make a difference in the way we do business," Henson said.