Novell, Microsoft operating systems must prove themselves

There are few things in life that I enjoy more than a new operating system. But what can I say? Deep down I'm a nerd (and perhaps a bit of a masochist too). It is also pretty exciting to track the progress of OS products from their early development stages to their shipping form, and then to see how the market reacts to the products once they are available.

This last part is the most interesting: once the features are set and the product is stable and tested, it then needs to go to the proving grounds (ie, your enterprise) to see if it really solves the problems that it was designed for. And with the NOS war breaking out again, I think that both Novell and Microsoft are going to have a lot of proving to do with their future NOS products. So I don't think Novell or Microsoft will be changing their enterprise roles anytime soon. Both vendors will continue to hold on to their areas of strength.

As Novell's NetWare 5 is getting set to ship in just a couple of weeks, the company has some definite challenges ahead. NetWare 5 continues to build on NetWare's core file-and-print and distributed-management services, and it looks like a safe bet for current NetWare sites.

But NetWare's wholly-revamped architecture, including significant changes to the memory model and the kernel, in addition to Novell's Java implementation, haven't yet been to the proving ground. Even though these enhancements should strengthen NetWare's role as an application server, we will need to wait a little while to see some good applications take shape -- and that will take time.

Meanwhile, Microsoft will face its own challenges. Even though the company has just released its second public beta version of Windows NT Server 5.0, the product is still perhaps another year or more in the future, and Microsoft still has quite a ways to go in realising its design goals. And once the product is finally released, I cannot see a mad dash of IT departments running out to deploy it during the first year.

With Windows NT 5.0, Microsoft continues to build on its core strengths -- its strong embedded application infrastructure. But Active Directory will be even newer and just as unproven as Novell's Java application architecture. It will require quite a bit of time and quite a few deployments from early adopters to prove whether Windows NT will meet the corporate challenge.

Novell and Microsoft are both covering new ground with their implementations of integrating public-key infrastructure and desktop policy and application management into their forthcoming NOSes. These additions are very promising and are starting to take shape, but again, time will be the judge.

When I look into my crystal ball (which I undoubtedly obtained from a vendor at some trade show) and gaze two years or three years into the future of the corporate enterprise, I think we will see a lot of what is here today -- namely coexistence. Sure, there will be those who move exclusively to NetWare, Windows NT, Unix or even OS/400. But I suspect that most enterprise sites will want to use the tools that make the best sense.

So, somewhere in your copious spare time, amid year-2000 verification testing, you are no doubt honing your NOS strategy. But take heart, it is not a winner-take-all proposition. Think about the things that count for your enterprise and consider perhaps better ways to manage mixed environments. But don't think that the NOS war will end with the millennium, because things are just starting to get interesting.

How about you? Are ready to take the new NOS plunge? Send me an e-mail and tell me about your strategy.

(Senior Analyst Jeff Symoens lives on the edge at the InfoWorld Test Center, covering enterprise platform products. He can be reached at jeff_symoens@infoworld.com)

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