As Novell's NetWare 5.0 comes closer to its expected mid-1998 ship date, the latest beta release shows the company's commitment to implementing native TCP/IP and Java as key features to Novell's next NOS platformAlthough the version that I tested, Beta 2, is still a bit unstable, it provides a good look at what we should see in the next release of the product. Nonetheless, it is too early to say whether this is an essential upgrade.
In this beta release, Novell has further refined NetWare 5.0's support for native TCP/IP. In the previous beta versions (formerly code-named Moab) at which I looked, the implementation of native TCP/IP has been high among the promised list of new features.
In this version, Novell has included a couple of features that will allow administrators to more smoothly migrate from IPX/SPX-based NetWare environments to native TCP/IP, while maintaining compatibility with applications that rely on IPX/SPX.
The two new features in NetWare 5.0 that help ease this migration are IPX Compatibility Mode and the Migration Agent. Compatibility Mode uses special drivers on both TCP/IP-based clients and servers. These drivers were loaded by default, so enabling this feature did not require any extra work on my part. Compatibility Mode provides IPX/SPX-based applications with a virtual IPX network, which is available via TCP/IP. This means that administrators can migrate to an IP-only environment without sacrificing compatibility for applications that require IPX.
The Migration Agent allows administrators to maintain connectivity among traditional IPX network nodes and new native IP nodes.
One feature in NetWare 5.0 that is bound to catch the eye is the optional GUI-based installation, an X Window-style GUI written in Java. I found this graphical method fairly easy to use; it will be a welcome change for those who are tired of NetWare text-mode dialogue boxes. Veteran NetWare administrators can choose the traditional installation program, which was improved quite a bit in 5.0.
With TCP/IP and Java high on the new feature list of NetWare 5.0, the product's support for DNS and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) somewhat merges these two ideas. NetWare 5.0 moves both DNS and DHCP into Novell Directory Services (NDS) as the source database for these two services. Although Novell intends to port all NDS-based management functionality in NetWare Administrator to a Java-based tool, I question how much this will help customers. Currently, the DNS and DHCP administration tool is supported only on Windows 95 and Windows NT platforms, so there is no short-term platform independence benefit.
The product's limited driver support for storage devices was something that disappointed me in the beta version I tested. Novell has acknowledged this limitation in the beta documentation.
The bottom line
NetWare 5.0, Beta 2
(formerly code-named Moab)
Many of the new features in NetWare 5.0 promise a much better platform for distributed network applications. The newest features provide solid backward compatibility as the product moves to a native TCP/IP implementationPros: IPX Compatibility Mode, Migration Agent, and Bindery Agent to ensure compatibility for IPX when moving to native TCP/IP; improved stability compared with previous beta releasesCons: Various beta bugs; unstable Java-based DNS/Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol manager Price: Not availablePlatform: Intel-based serversShip date: Midyear