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Back to the future: Novell's new vision for success

In my last column I talked about Novell's current dilemma and promised a report on the company's announcements at NetWorld+ Interop. I spent an entire day at the show with Novell and, to put it mildly, it was an interesting day.

The morning started with a keynote address by Eric Schmidt, Novell's president and CEO. Schmidt started his presentation by discussing some of the challenges facing the Internet as a whole, including reliability, stability and relevance of content. While Novell can't offer too much in the way of solutions to these global problems, the company apparently wants the world to know that it is aware of them and is willing to help where help (and profit) is possible. Schmidt then went on to present a brief history of the evolution of the Web.

This is when things started to get interesting. Almost a year ago, Novell announced its One Net strategy for Internet-enabling Novell products and services. This initiative didn't get too much public attention, as it mostly dealt with existing products used in slightly different ways. This time around, Schmidt's announcement was called Net Services, and it's notable for two reasons.

Historically, corporations have grown and prospered when they have enunciated a vision that matches their current and prospective customers' needs and growth plans. Then, they have to form a strategy that enables the vision. As long as you have both a vision and a strategy, you're in good shape. Novell now has both of these, and the future's looking pretty bright. What I found amusing is that the company seems to have gotten there bass-ackwards.

One Net was a pretty good strategy for Novell. Essentially, it leveraged Novell's strengths as a server operating system vendor and extended them to the Internet, taking advantage of the global internetworking craze. What was missing was a cohesive vision of what the end product was going to look like - for Novell and the world. Net Services is both an expansion of One Net and that missing vision. Novell has finally put the pieces together, albeit in the wrong order.

Novell has always known that knowledge is power. What the company has finally figured out is that the ability to disseminate that information is even more powerful. Net Services contains a vision of the availability of personalized information sources for every individual, consisting of externalized information (the Web) and internalized (corporate) information, accessible securely from anyplace in the world. Furthermore, Novell has decided that XML is the lingua franca of the future and has begun delivering software such as Novell Portal Services that enables this technology.

Of course, knowing what information you need is contingent on knowing who you are, so the new Novell products are tightly integrated with eDirectory, formerly known as Novell Directory Services. EDirectory is available for the popular operating systems, so while Novell would love you to use NetWare as the base platform, you don't have to on an enterprisewide basis.

Novell also has made some interesting moves in the alliance arena. The company's recent announcement of a partnership with Red Hat Software on further development of eDirectory for Linux and Red Hat's commitment to using eDirectory on its forthcoming Red Hat Network is an interesting development. At the press conference I asked Schmidt whether any merger or acquisition discussions were ongoing between Novell and Red Hat and was told (per Securities and Exchange Commission rules), "I can't talk about that, either to say yes or no." After a short pause, Schmidt added, "We like them a lot."

That raises some interesting questions about NetWare's future. Novell has committed to a program of development and enhancement for NetWare for the next five years, but what will happen after that?

In speculating, I wouldn't be surprised to see NetWare operating in a Linux microkernel environment, with support for NetWare storage systems, Novell Distributed Print Services and legacy NetWare Loadable Modules running as daemons. Whatever the future path, it's definitely going to be interesting.


Shapiro is district technology coordinator for Kingsport City Schools in Tennessee. He can be reached at

Read more of Shapiro's Management Mode columns.

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