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Novell lures Microsoft users with desktop management upgrade

Novell has begun shipping Version 4 of its ZENworks for Desktops management software, with an important improvement that makes the product no longer dependent on a Novell NetWare client to manage workstations.

The latest version can be combined with Novell's ZENworks for Servers and ZENworks for Handhelds products to give network administrators a view of a company's entire portfolio of desktops and mobile devices from a single console. That should make it simpler to monitor the systems and update applications, analysts noted.

US users welcomed the news. Allina Hospitals & Clinics in Minneapolis plans to roll out Version 4 in parallel with a planned Windows XP deployment to 10,000 desktop PCs, said Jeffrey Smith, a senior LAN analyst at the company.

Allina has used Version 2 of ZENworks since a Y2K readiness project in 1999 and has found it "absolutely essential" in distributing up to 700 applications to desktops since then. "In health care, there are continual upgrades," Smith said.

Allina will also be considering ZENworks for Handhelds, since mobile computing is gaining importance, Smith is more interested in the open nature of Version 4. "Previous versions forced you to use the Novell inventory database system, and now we can aim this inventory to Microsoft SQL Server instead," he said.

While Allina has roughly three times as many Microsoft-based servers as Novell-based ones, Smith said he wants to hold on to Novell's eDirectory. "EDirectory is so stable, so why reinvent the wheel? Why not use what we have?" he said.

Matthew Krieger, assistant director of global network architecture services at The Reader's Digest Association, has been a beta tester of Version 4, and has Version 3 installed on 4,000 desktops in 19 countries. The open nature of Version 4 will let the publisher deploy ZENworks without the full NetWare client as Reader's Digest acquires companies that are pure Microsoft shops, he said.

Krieger said reports that said Version 4 was "clientless" are inaccurate, because client software that comes with ZENworks still needs to be installed. Analysts confirmed that is indeed the case.

ZENworks 3 has been used for massive software deployments at Reader's Digest, bringing the time required for such processes down from weeks to one or two days. "The reality is that we couldn't survive without this product," Krieger said.

Ronni Colville, an analyst at Gartner, said Novell's directory approach was "more mature" than that of Microsoft, and that doing away with the NetWare client was "critical" for Novell. "It had been an impediment for them." With Version 4, "Novell might get more acceptance in pure Microsoft shops where there has been no Novell," Colville said.

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