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Novell woos small businesses

Apr 28, 20034 mins

Small Business Suite for NetWare 6.5 is full of new features, Version 6.0 is free.

Small businesses reach a point of maturity where a “real” network helps further their success. For instance, when you graduate from having your spouse do the books and create an accounting department, you need internal security controls to keep the shipping clerk from accessing payroll files. You also need reliable centralized storage for data backup, and shared calendars and task lists instead of e-mail hosted by your ISP. Novell’s NetWare, particularly the Small Business Suite, provides all this for less money and fewer administration hassles than other options.

Granted, Novell has lost luster — due to Microsoft’s relentless attack and a series of marketing and management miscues. Nevertheless, the company still has more than $1 billion in revenue per year and about $750 million in the bank, so it’s not going anywhere. Also good news is Novell’s new strategy to put formerly enterprise-only tools in the hands of small businesses, such as GroupWise, NetWare 6.0 Small Business Suite and, this summer, Virtual Office in NetWare 6.5.

Novell’s annual BrainShare conference, held recently in Salt Lake City, proved a good time for the NetWare faithful as well as future Novell customers.

Novell is pushing hard to get small businesses to consider NetWare. It recently began giving away the current version of Small Business Suite for NetWare 6. This five-user pack includes NetWare, GroupWise 6 for messaging and collaboration, ZENworks for desktop system management, BorderManager for firewall and VPN, and third-party tools for virus control, Internet connection caching and faxing. Total retail value: $1,295. But as always, “free” comes with a couple of strings attached.

First, existing Novell customers are excluded. The Small Business Suite folks at BrainShare said many customers tried to claim some software, but no go. This is an enticement to pull people into NetWare rather than an award for current customers.

Second, you must have a Novell dealer install the system. This new pricing program helps the sales channel as much as small customers, but it’s still a good idea. If you’re new to networking, a few hours of installation and configuration help is well worth the cost. And if you’re currently using Windows “free” networking by sharing hard disks and printers between desktop systems, you need a quick education about true operating systems, especially if you care about performance or security.

The version upgrades for Small Business Suite run about six months behind full NetWare releases, and the upcoming 6.5 version follows that trend. NetWare 6.5 should ship this summer, and Small Business Suite 6.5 will appear around year-end.

Perhaps the most newsworthy announcement at BrainShare was the addition of Linux support in NetWare 7.0, probably two years away. Customers I talked with were either thrilled or didn’t care. NetWare 7.0 plans include an option for users to install either a NetWare or Linux kernel under the NetWare operating system. Since the kernel is the software that controls the server hardware and supports the operating system, users never see it, but administrators do.

Plenty of new features are working their way into NetWare 6.5, but the most exciting is the new Virtual Office. The first NetWare tool built strictly for end users in many years, Virtual Office packs a user’s files, e-mail, calendar, printer control and team-member status into a single browser page. Logging in to Virtual Office opens all other password doors in the network, for “single sign on” use. Inside Virtual Office, Virtual Team provides discussion lists of common projects and a chat window, as well as access to team documents. Stay tuned for more details once I have time to test my beta copy (a gift to all BrainShare attendees).

If you’re running Web sites using Apache, you’ll be happy to hear that Novell has further integrated it with NetWare 6.5. Fans of the Web database, MySQL, will be happy to know MySQL 4.0 is included. There’s also a new Java Virtual Machine, and PHP (hypertext preprocessor) and Perl support, which makes programmers happy, as well as firms that need performance while saving tons of bucks over, say, competing Microsoft offerings.

The products we’ve discussed, along with many others we haven’t, will make it easier for a dealer or consultant to remotely support small businesses cost-effectively. And we didn’t even get to all the upcoming improvements in Novell’s Branch Office version of NetWare, which makes life more fault tolerant and manageable for remote offices than ever before. Lots more later.