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Timing is everything in this industry. You only have to look at the endless stream of vapourware flowing out of marketing departments months before product leaves the R&D labs to realise that.
Microsoft is a master of the pre-emptive strike designed to discourage competitors from straying into lucrative markets. But it is about to have a taste of its own medicine.
Under threat from Microsoft's Active Directory in the forthcoming Windows NT 5.0, Novell has suddenly reversed its previous strategy of holding on tight to its core NDS directory services and will now license it out to other key players in the network operating system arena.
The Novell Directory Services is an important facet in the company's recent change in ploy over Windows NT. Rather than battle to maintain an ever-shrinking market share with NetWare against the NT onslaught, Novell has attempted to reposition itself as the best company for NT.
Part of this move was the launch of NDS for Windows NT.
However, Novell cannot go it alone against mighty Microsoft. For this new NT-focused company to survive in an increasingly Microsoft-dominated world it really needs to get technology like NDS out to the masses.
The timing of its announcement is crucial. Although not due for release until the second half of next year, NT 5.0 is being openly discussed and hyped-up, particularly the Active Directory component.
Banyan's current difficulties have also led to speculation that Microsoft may license Banyan's StreetTalk directory to speed up directory development in NT. Furthermore, Netscape is talking of getting into the directory game.
Faced with such competition, Novell had a stark choice. Either it could carry on with its previously successful strategy of keeping NDS close to its chest and trading on its uniqueness, or it could offer it to other vendors to broaden its availability and make it more difficult for rivals to muscle in.
By choosing the latter, Novell has avoided the costly mistake Apple made in the 1980s. From being one of the bright lights of the industry, Apple plummeted to earth because it consistently refused to license out its proprietary Macintosh architecture and create a clone market. By the time it did decide to do it, it was too late - the market had moved on and Microsoft had won the desktop battle with Windows.
Novell couldn't afford to make the same mistake. But it's not the only one. A growing number of major vendors are now choosing to license out their core technologies. In recent months we've seen Sun donate Java to the industry, Microsoft hand over ActiveX to the Open Group, and we hear Lotus is embracing Java as a development environment for Notes. Novell's NDS licensing strategy is a sign of the times.
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