Guest Column: Novell thinking big and small

"I like thinking big. If you're going to be thinking anything, you might as well think big."

-- Donald Trump

I'm sure you know, but in the unlikely case you don't, BrainShare is Novell's public display of thinking big. The lovefest is held in Salt Lake City, where more than one thousand people paying a little less than $US1500 gather to hear what Novell is doing. This year, Novell is putting a lot of focus on its forthcoming version of the Novell Directory Services, NDS 8.0, which is definitely a piece of big thinking.

And Novell is proposing more big thinking on top of NDS 8.0. The best is Novell's new "digitalme" technology, which uses NDS to manage the identity of users on the Internet. The company already has Citigroup and FirstUSA backing the idea.

But I must note that Novell is getting a little above itself. On its Web site, you can sign up for "Webcasts" of key BrainShare presentations. Good idea -- except Novell wants you to cough up $25 per session for the privilege!

These were two-hour broadcasts using Real Network's RealPlayer. The topics were "TCP/IP on the Wire" and "Comparing NetWare 5 and Microsoft Windows 2000". And if you signed up for both, you got to watch "NetWare 5 Boot Camp: Inside NetWare 5", "NDS Design Strategies for ZENworks" and "Top NDS Issues".

Let me get this straight. Novell wanted people to pay $12.50 an hour to watch what must have been a mediocre-quality, unreliable transmission. But to add insult to injury, with the exception of the first session, all the sessions were obviously Novell product pitches presented by Novelloids. The company must be losing it. (If you shelled out some cash for these broadcasts, drop me a note and let me know what you thought of them and if they were valuable.)Anyway, back to our topic . . . Novell's NDS 8.0. It's pretty impressive. Novell is said to have demonstrated an NDS system loaded with one billion objects -- I heard a pitch on what that took and it was not a trivial exercise - and I'm told the access time for the content of any selected object was fast. That goes a long way to demonstrating scalability.

The early beta-user feedback on NDS 8.0 is encouraging. Large telcos and end users are enthusiastic and, given that IDC says 80 per cent of the Fortune 1000 has Novell NDS in place, the future of NDS should be promising. I write "should be" because, as usual, Microsoft has the potential to be the spoiler.

Even though Novell will have a seven-year lead by the time Microsoft's Active Directory Services (ADS) comes out, and a far better architecture (unless Microsoft does something radical in the next few months), Microsoft has the clout to turn users away from what should be a commonsense decision.

NDS is a commonsense decision because ADS will be unproven and only available on NT, whereas NDS will be available on NT, Solaris, HP/UX, OS/390 and Linux. And ADS is underpinned by Microsoft's wretched domain security system, known for poor scalability and manageability, while NDS is based on NetWare security that has proved to be scalable and manageable.

Despite all these arguments, Novell looks like it is struggling with marketing. And this isn't just because Microsoft has clout. Small thinking on the part of Novell, such as charging prospects and existing customers to watch sales pitches, is causing problems for the company. And I could expound at length on how badly Novell communicates with the press.

Novell needs to think big about things that matter, such as defining its position, and forget about little things like charging for Webcasts.

Big thinking to nwcolumn@ gibbs.com

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