Through all the talk of aggressive marketing and plans to reinvigorate channel sales, Novell vice-chairman Chris Stone in a keynote address highlighted NetWare's continued importance in the company's future.
"NetWare clearly is not going anywhere. It is going up into the services layer," he said.
In the first half of next year, Novell plans to unfurl a new version of NetWare, code-name Nakoma, which will add support for J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) and Web services standards such as SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration).
Jim Tanner, director of product management at Novell, said, "We are building a full J2EE Web environment into NetWare. We are adding pieces such as JBoss, MySQL, Tomcat and Apache to construct a complete development environment."
In addition to incorporating support for open standards, the Nakoma release will also focus on consolidation and zero-cost deployment, Novell officials said.
In addition, Novell plans to expand platform support to include Linux, Unix, Windows, and AIX. The ultimate goal, according to company officers, is to expose all of Novell's services as Web services.
"NetWare is a services platform that can have components lifted off to work on other platforms," said Carl Ledbetter, Novell senior vice-president of engineering and chief technology officer. "Services will pop off other capabilities that are part of the kernel, [for example] iPrint and iFolder. NetWare modules can be repurposed in other environments."
To clarify its move to create a development environment, Novell does not plan to enter the application server business, Ledbetter said.
"Novell missed an opportunity; we did not provide the right development tools when the app server battle was going on. Now the application server battle is over, and it is about services," he said. "Now we need a software development environment."
Novell plans to look to partnerships with companies such as BEA to leapfrog ahead where it can.
"We don't want to redo what has already been done. Novell plans to use those technologies that are already developed," Ledbetter said.
Further down the line, Novell is staging two more future revisions of NetWare, dubbed Hayden and Unita.
Hayden, due late next year, will turn the focus on server blades which, Novell believes, will further boost NetWare's scalability and ease of deployment in Java environments, Tanner said.
"With [Hayden], NetWare is now a business decision. The best way to deploy it can be focused on how you get a particular service. Blades are a good way to do that," he said.
Meanwhile, the Unita release, planned for the end of 2004, aims to incorporate 32-bit and 64-bit computing to provide services from NetWare on a new kernel, according to Tanner. Unita will also explore elements of self-healing and self-configuring environments.
According to Dan Kusnetzky, vice-president of system software research at analyst IDC, pushing NetWare into emerging fields such as Web services is the right direction to take.
"Novell is trying to take advantage of interest in Web services architecture to take its platform into new areas," he said. "I think because the whole concept of Web services is platform-independent, it might be a very good move for Novell.
But Kusnetzky added that the challenge Novell has is around marketing, not technology. "Only time will tell if this latest attempt at renewal is successful," he said.