Recreating Relevance

Once upon a time, there was a company that dominated the network software market. For a while it was a giant in the field, but the company lost momentum during the mid-1990s in the face of fierce competition from Microsoft Corp. Today that company is struggling to redefine itself in a world where some users see it as a has-been vendor selling decreasingly popular technology.

A lot of dedicated Novell customers beg to differ. In fact, NetWare is an entrenched technology that is widely used. Consider, for instance, that this publication caters to the Windows NT enterprise user, yet more than 50 percent of ENT’s readers also have NetWare installed. True enough, Novell has a loyal customer base, but it needs to find ways to attract new customers to grow its business.

With the launch of Windows 2000, one very important question arises: How will Novell continue to compete now that its most important advantage -- a comprehensive directory service -- is no longer a major differentiation.

At its user conference at the end of March, Novell began to answer the question of what comes next. Simply stated, the company plans to build on its best strengths -- including its eDirectory technology and client management services -- and extend them to heterogeneous environments. This is part of a major initiative by the company to define the space were it plays as Net services. All its products will be driven into line with a blueprint the company calls the Directory-Enabled Net Infrastructure Model, or DENIM.

A major goal in this plan is to evolve each of its collections of Net services -- Net Management Services, Net Content Services, and Net Portal Services -- in such a way that a customer can deploy them without requiring the use of NetWare in their server infrastructure.

So instead of selling NetWare because of the management tools that come with it, or selling the management tools to NetWare customers, Novell is heading toward a brave new world where its tools and management solutions get sold on their own merits.

Novell is quick to say this is not a reflection of NetWare’s prospects for future growth, nor is it de-emphasizing the importance of NetWare as a product. Frankly, the company can’t afford to take its eye off NetWare: This one product generates over half of the company’s revenue.

Novell is taking this tact because the company realizes that it needs to play in the emerging heterogeneous Internet world, and that by extending its management products beyond NetWare-only environments, the company can play in a far bigger playground.

The truth is there are some interesting and useful technologies that are available from Novell, but these products don’t get a fair share of recognition within the Windows NT community. One example of a product that could be useful in an NT shop is ZENworks for Desktops.

If you’ve played around with Windows 2000 Server or Professional, created Group Policies, or published or assigned software to client machines, you have experienced much of what ZENworks for Desktops 2.0 offers today, and basically all of what the 3.0 release will deliver. The 3.0 release goes into a beta testing soon, and is expected to become generally available during the second half of this year. The 3.0 version adds support for leveraging .MSI files for software installation, self-healing capabilities, the ability to blow an entire disk image down to a Windows workstation, and adds another interesting twist to application publishing/assignment and self healing: these capabilities are available offline.

ZENworks runs on Windows 2000, Windows 9x, and even Windows 3.x clients, and it doesn’t require a migration to Windows 2000 Server complete with the DNS planning and migration issues that come along with it. Nor does it force a user to introduce NetWare to an otherwise all-Windows NT or 2000 environment.

Novell appears to have a legitimate plan for growing in a world with pervasive connectivity and the heterogeneity that will come with it. Novell’s next mission is to re-establish its relevance to customers outside the NetWare faithful.

But it is a sad fact that great technology doesn’t always win in the computer industry. Do you think Novell can do it this time? --Al Gillen is research manager for infrastructure software at IDC ( and former editor-in-chief of ENT. Contact him at

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