Novell goes for MS jugular over ‘Win2k FUD’

But the company has a way to go before it masters attack marketing

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Novell is conducting a surprisingly fierce and long overdue campaign against what it says is Microsoft's FUD. Since the departure of Ray Noorda - "the grandfather from hell" as Bill Gates viewed him - Novell has not been noted for being so outspoken, but it has finally taken the gloves off in its campaign to correct "Microsoft's untruths regarding NetWare features". Novell's position is difficult, because it does need some co-operation from Microsoft, but evidently the straw now weighs too heavily on the camel's back. The company's legal department wrote to Microsoft about an article posted on the Microsoft web site last month; this contained a number of seriously false claims. Microsoft withdrew its document, but Novell's hard-hitting response remains on its own site Novell has actually been countering Microsoft spin in the Novell Advantage area of its web site for quite some time now, but the company hasn't been wildly proactive. Now however it's going for a jugular with a series of daily updates on deficiencies and problems with Win2k. There have been many previous instances of Microsoft being warned off by Novell. In 1992, Microsoft included Novell's NetWare client in Windows for Workgroups without permission, with the result that Novell terminated the licence for the client in Windows 3.1. The same year, Novell's Btrieve DLLs turned up in MS Access, again without permission, and Microsoft was obliged to remove the code. Similar things happened with NT, which incorporated NetWare Core Protocols, and later NetWare's File and Print Services, and again Microsoft had to remove the code. Then NDS code appeared in Microsoft's Directory Service Manager for NetWare. A preview version of Windows 95 included NetWare Core Protocols, which also had to be removed. Microsoft was clearly chancing its arm with its spiked article - it made claims that were untrue, never mind just contentious, and in doing so contrived to draw attention to what Novell sees as Win2k's prime area of vulnerability, Active Directory. Microsoft claimed that Active Directory is more scalable than NDS and that NetWare uses a flat-file database when in fact Novell has publicly demonstrated terabyte storage of arbitrarily-structured data and a high performance NDS tree of more than a billion objects. Microsoft also claimed NetWare lacks features like disk mirroring or compression when it must have been aware that Novell has had mirroring for 15 years and compression for six years. In response Novell comes out fighting, noting that Active Directory disables disk caching when installed (resulting in there being no basic data integrity mechanism in Windows 2000); that AD is 60 to 70 times bigger than a similar NDS database, that AD cannot be portioned, and that AD does not support interoperability. Many observers had thought that Novell was asleep while Microsoft has been vulnerable from the delays to Windows 2000, but Novell CEO Eric Schmidt has finally put in place "executives who I trust" and done something about Novell's marketing efforts. The departure of five Novell executives was complemented by marching orders to all 60 people in the marketing department, although it may well come as a surprise that Novell had that many. Schmidt is normally a hands-off manager but he became involved in the knife work to rebuild marketing under VP of global marketing Steve Adams, who was previously with Citrix and whom Schmidt describes as "the senior messenger". Adams developed a blueprint entitled "Why Novell's marketing sucks", with long-time Novell hand Dave Shirk setting up a flat reporting structure with around 30 "Tiger Teams" reporting directly - with the prospect of termination for not achieving targets. Novell has been squeezed not just by Microsoft's FUD towards NDS and NetWare, but also by the rise of Linux: it is about to be announced by IDC that NetWare is in third place behind NT and Linux, so far as new installations are concerned. NetWare 5.1 (previously code-named Cobra) limped on to the scene last week without any significant trumpet fanfare, which suggests that Novell's PR still needs to learn how to play hardball. NDS 8 is now called NDS eDirectory, and NetWare 5.1 has IBM WebSphere 3.0 bundled. Media interest was primarily from those having a business relationship with Microsoft, where the reaction was predictably negative, with repetition of what Novell calls Microsoft's "untruths". Multiprocessing capability will have to await for the next iteration of NetWare, although it remains to be seen whether multiprocessing in Windows 2000 will be sufficiently reliable and effective. Solaris is also scheduled to have multiprocessing this quarter. Novell's strategic marketing change is to be packaging its products in suites for business needs rather than as technologies. Whether this will result in a focus on marketing to executives rather than cuddling techies remains to be seen, but unless Novell gets its story into the airline magazines and the business weeklies, it will find it hard to keep and take mindshare, whatever the quality of its products. Novell has seen how Microsoft markets beta products and intends to play the same game. Adams decided to delay the launch of iChain, the response to Microsoft's BizTalk (which has gone very quiet recently), from December until it had the benefit of better packaging and looked less techy. It will probably be a pinprick spoiler for the Windows 2000 release. Added to the problems of poor marketing to IT executives, Novell has also not done well with developers, although last week it did announce it would offer in March a software development kit for developers who wanted to link applications to NDS. For many Novell users, no news is good news - NetWare is credited with just running for months without problems, with the consequence that upgrading is less necessary for users, since support goes back to NetWare 3.12. A further and ironic consequence is that relatively few people know what to do when there are problems with NetWare/NDS. The card that Novell has not yet played very well is its cost advantage, in that Novell installations that have moved to NT find they need considerably more servers, and that the maintenance cost is high because of the systems expertise needed for all the fixes. Whether Novell is successful in bringing home a true comparison of costs and performance has yet to be seen. Nor has Novell had much success in publicising the possibility of replacing Active Directory with NDS, despite Microsoft's efforts to weld AD to Windows, as it did with IE and Windows 98. The problems of a Microsoft monoculture - since AD only supports Windows 2000 and not Windows 9x or 3x - also needs to be pointed out. Novell has previously been quiet to the point of timidity about the problems that Microsoft has put in the path of NetWare, and the present campaign is the first to score some serious points about false claims. ®

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