Novell announced at its Brainshare conference in April that it was adopting Linux as its NetWare migration path by making NetWare 7 - due out in two years - a set of services that would run on both the Linux and NetWare kernels.
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But this week, Novell said a key set of NetWare services running on Linux - including directory, file, print, messaging and management services - will be made available later this year.
Novell Nterprise Linux Services 1.0, which constitutes about 60% of the NetWare services stack, will run on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server. It will go into limited beta at 150 sites next month.
Users have every reason to be surprised by this week's announcement, since Novell officials at Brainshare suggested that NetWare services would not be available on Linux until the relatively distant release of NetWare 7.
Those officials are now saying that they planned all along to make some services available on Linux sooner but had not developed the road map sufficiently to make an announcement at Brainshare.
"We in fact knew a lot at Brainshare, but we didn't know enough," Jeff Hawkins, vice-president of Novell's Linux business office, said this week.
"We were well along the way of driving the engineering efforts and aligning all of the organisation behind this product release, but we weren't prepared to make any announcement at Brainshare about the product itself."
Hawkins indicated that Novell would use the launch of NetWare 6.5 this summer to push the Linux offering.
"There probably will be [a connection between NetWare 6.5 and Nterprise Linux Services 1.0] as we look at how we get our current customers to embrace it," he said. "Those are going to be pricing and deployment strategies. We're not announcing those right now, but you can imagine that those are pretty important conversations that are happening."
John Enck, an analyst at Gartner, said users that plan to adopt Linux but have never considered NetWare may like Novell's Linux strategy because Novell has "stronger directory and file/print services than the open-source community provides".
Novell this week also announced agreements with Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and IBM under which the hardware suppliers will offer Novell's Linux products on their servers and collaborate with Novell on Linux training and support.
Jim Stallings, general manager for Linux at IBM, predicted that Novell's move to support Linux will put pressure on companies such as Microsoft, "that have proprietary architectures and that charge exorbitant fees for them".
Matt Hamblen writes for Computerworld