Novell chiefs opened Brainshare Europe 98 in their most pragmatic mood ever, signalling a more focused view for the future.
Rather than gun for Microsoft in every direction, Novell seemed to have reached an understanding that it cannot attempt to be a fully fledged applications server environment, particularly for Java - although that had appeared to be the aim when Chris Stone, joint founder of the Object Management Group, joined Novell's executive team last year.
Instead Novell wants to develop "intelligent applications servers", to run what it terms "specialist" applications, such as file and print, network management, and network directories - as opposed to general purpose platforms "which one competitor is trying to do", noted Stone.
This aroused speculation that Novell's strategy is to develop a new network operating system, but Stone was looking to current realities rather than future plans. He will continue with the work he was brought in to do - wooing software developers - albeit focusing more narrowly on applications that fit with Novell's background and strengths.
Soon after Stone joined the company, he sparked furious debate across the industry when he said Novell wanted to be "friends" with the software developer community, suggesting a move away from the company's traditional ties with network managers and developers and a focus on general purpose servers, in competition with Microsoft.
The claim also reignited memories of the company's previous aborted attempts to host general purpose applications in the 1980s. And only seven months ago, during the Networld+ Interop Europe show, Stone said he wanted to talk to general apps suppliers like Baan and Peoplesoft to get their Java versions onto Netware.
But these issues were not raised at all during his keynote this time, although he did say: "He who holds the software holds the key. The more people write software for Netware the better off Novell will be. Developers are our future."
He added that he is working on making available as many application programming interfaces and sourcecodes as he can on the Novell Web site to encourage mass development and uptake. "By the end of the year, our goal is to have a single software developers' kit for the entire community," he said, claiming the number of developers working on Novell products has increased by 70 per cent over the past year to 23,000.
Unsurprisingly, Novell's deal to bundle a five-user licence of Oracle8 free with NT 5 also got a mention by Stone, although he played down a move that has met with as much criticism as praise round the industry and was largely seen as a marketing coup only. "You need a back end database as more and more people write applications using Netware. We are not just selling Oracle but using it as a back end," he said.
Back in the networking world, Stone said Novell is focused around four areas - network services and collaboration using Netware Directory Services (NDS) and Groupwise; Intranets and the Internet; Java development tools; plus desktop management using NDS and the recently announced Zero Effort Networking products.
"Novell will manage NT better than Microsoft - believe me, that's not hard," he said.
NDS was also propelled into the limelight again as Stone described it as "the backbone of the network and enterprise - all things will be able to network [using directory services]" - referring to the industry's efforts to enable directories to define access to network devices.
Stone also admitted Novell's attempt, initiated at the end of 1996, to give away basic NDS free to developers such as Hewlett Packard, IBM and even Microsoft has been derailed.
"[Putting native NDS] on other platforms wasn't going to work. We will continue to work with partners to provide NDS in IBM. We will provide NDS on other platforms via partners. We are focused on putting NDS on NT." The primary Unix platform will be Solaris for NDS.
It was left to Stone to spell out Novell's priorities - chief executive Eric Schmidt, it seems, has now taken on the role of networking evangelist. But Schmidt did add his weight to the streamlining message, saying Novell will no longer maintain non-core projects or those that do not make money. One example is Nest, the company's attempt to make embedded Netware, which has now been licenced to Noco.
Said Schmidt: "We are focusing on Border Services, Netware, Groupwise and NDS. The company had a history of just talking [about new and offbeat developments. I'm used to telling people, 'no, we're not doing that'."
Surprisingly little mention was made of Netware 5, despite beta 3 being announced recently. An insider said the shipping date has now shifted to the end of the year. Novell had originally promised next year.
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