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Novell in transition mode as users gather

Novell holds its annual Brainshare user conference this week in Salt Lake City, with its software and IT services business in transition.

The conference is the first for Novell and its users since the company acquired consulting firm Cambridge Technology Partners last July as part of a plan to reduce its reliance on sales of packaged software.

The conference also follows several senior management changes at Novell during the past three weeks. In the biggest move, the company brought back former executive Christopher Stone to take over operations such as engineering, marketing and consulting.

Meanwhile, within its software business, Novell has shifted from a NetWare-centric strategy to one that focuses heavily on directory services and systems management tools.

Last week, the company added a version of its ZENworks software that manages handheld devices, and it plans to announce several products that don't touch on NetWare at this week's conference.

As part of its change in strategy, Novell has spent the past year enabling its key products to work in a heterogeneous world. The ZENworks management tool for PCs is now operating-system-agnostic and Novell last summer uncoupled its eDirectory software from NetWare, giving users a single point of access to all networked applications and services.

The open question, however, is whether Novell has been able to get users to recognise its newfound openness.

"People naturally believe if you buy something from Novell, you've got to have NetWare to run it," said Earl Perkins, an analyst at Meta Group. "The truth is, they play in a lot of sandboxes these days, but they haven't gotten that word out."

Perkins said Novell's ultimate goal was to support single sign-on capabilities across multiple operating systems. "They say they've got it licked, but I'm not sure I believe them," he said. "That's one of the things I'm going to be interested to see at BrainShare."

One of the products Novell will roll out at Brainshare is an upgrade to its BorderManager security management product, which is designed to secure and monitor access to the Internet.

Border Manger 3.7 includes Web-based firewall administration, which is designed to simplify the configuration and maintenance of a corporate firewall. Another feature in Version 3.7, virus request blocking, helps guard against HTTP viruses such as Code Red and Nimda by recognising and reacting to the traffic patterns of those viruses the company said.

In addition, BorderManager 3.7 expands VPN client support to Windows XP and ME workstations, and will ship with a personal firewall designed to enhance security for remote users and workstations.

To update Internet filtering capabilities of BorderManager, Novell teamed up with third-party vendor SurfControl, which provides a content database that can track and monitor a company's Web activity and helps restrict access to inappropriate Web sites.

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