For Novell, everything old is new again

While I keep an eagle eye on all things Microsoft for this column, I try to pay close attention to what rival Novell is up to as well. I spent a couple of days in Utah late last month, primarily to preview NetWare 5, but also to look at the other products Novell is readying for shipment between now and year-end.

And while NetWare 5 is impressive, it was two other products that showed me Novell's new direction as well as the company's return to its roots.

Novell Directory Services (NDS) for NT and ZENworks show an understanding of how networking can be used to reduce the total cost of computing. This gets back to Novell's roots.

The Novell offerings enable products from other vendors, particularly Microsoft, to be maintained and supported with fewer administrators, fewer trips to the user's desk and greater administrative control from a single point. This integration with other vendors' products points to Novell's new direction.

NDS for NT 2.0 should at least be evaluated by anyone with an NT network. The bigger that network, the more appealing the product should be. See this week's Fusion Focus on NT newsletter (www.nwfusion.com/focus/) for more information about the product.

ZENworks 1.1 will do for your NT and Windows desktops what Microsoft's Zero Administration initiative only promised. With ZENworks, you can centrally create and manage policies and mandatory user profiles; centrally build hardware inventories for all your Windows NT and Windows 95 workstations in NDS; and distribute, manage and update applications on Windows-based workstations across your network.

The product's policy management features, in particular, are designed from the administrator's point of view. With Novell's NWAdmin utility, you can create what are called policy packages. One package, for example, can be designed for a specific desktop operating system, while another might be created for specific hardware, and still another for a group of end users. Packages can also be designed for individuals, so that their policies can be fine-tuned to best define the desktop for their use. By combining the operating system, hardware, group and user policies, administrators can create the right desktop configuration for each user, regardless of where the user logs on to the networks.

Application management is just as granular - with the ability to customise the applications shown to a user based on the platform and location the user logs on from. When you add inventory management and the ability to remotely control the user's computer, ZENworks 1.1 looks like a real time and money saver.

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

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