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Novell has announced it will hand out free 100-user copies of its NDS directory for anyone who buys Windows 2000 server within 90 days of release or Solaris 7 before the end of January. Novell has billed the move as an aggressive attack on the still-to-be-seen Active Directory from Microsoft. However, it more clearly demonstrates the uncertainty with which Novell is now approaching the market. Having lost several key staff, particularly ex-VP and forward thinker Chris Stone, Novell is a very different animal to a year ago when its overwhelming confidence that NDS would rule the world inspired investors and analysts alike to wax lyrical. Whether things aren't going to plan or the plan itself was only clear in the minds of those no longer at the networking giant, remains uncertain. But what is clear is that a charged-for NDS is not shifting in sufficient quantities. The departure of Stone may have hurt Novell and CEO Eric Schmidt more than the company would like to admit. Schmidt's refusal to give NDS away free was reportedly one of the reasons behind the senior VP's departure. The decision to give it away (but only under certain conditions) appears to be a tacit admission that Stone may have been right all along. And so we see a nervous Novell lacking the confidence to strike out one way or another. Its new senior strategist Carl Ledbetter has taken to repeating the old NDS mantras as though they were new and hoping no one will notice. But they will, and sooner than he thinks. Unless Novell finds someone to pick up the flag and charge forward, the unthinkable may happen – NDS will falter and Microsoft will give the company its second, and possibly last, kicking. ®

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