Kearns' column: Keep Your Eyes on BrainShare

This week it's time for my annual trek to Salt Lake City for Novell's BrainShare. I'm wondering what thoughts about the network company I'll come away with.

It was just three years ago that Novell was being dismissed as no longer relevant, a company whose best future was seen as being acquired by IBM or AT&T. Then came Eric Schmidt, NetWare 5 and the emergence of directory services led by Novell's NDS.

However, last year showed some slippage among longtime NetWare stalwarts as the company threw its focus behind an Internet strategy that seemed to overlook the corporate LAN - the very business that has driven the company for all these years. Once again, NetWare 5.1 was seemingly focused on giving its owners an Internet presence. The recently released Zen for Servers, it could be argued, was definitely a plus for traditional network professionals. But at the same time, Zen for Networks was released - useful on the LAN but targeted directly at the Internet arena.

There are also numerous rumors swirling around the company, although thankfully, being acquired is no longer one of them. There is a strong rumor that NetWare 3 is finally going to disappear from the sales catalog. It's something many in Provo have wanted to do for the past four or five years, but sales of NetWare 3.12 and 3.2 have remained at such high levels that it would have been economic suicide to pull them off the market. Nevertheless, it makes little sense to have three major versions (3.2, 4.2 and 5.1) selling at the same time.

Other rumors persist about political struggles in the upper reaches of the company. A whole series of rumors insists that one of Novell's top executives - whose title begins with a "C" and ends with an "O" - will soon be leaving. Depending on whom you listen to, it's either CEO Eric Schmidt, Chief Operating Officer Stewart Nelson or Chief Technology Officer Drew Major. It's no secret that Schmidt and Nelson don't get along, each having a very different vision of where the company should be going. Major is rumored to finally have tired of the political infighting as well as some of the less-thanoptimized technologies (such as server-based Java) that have been incorporated into what he's always considered "his" operating system.

It promises to be a lively week!

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at wired@vquill.com.

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