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Novell grooms NetWare-Linux lovechild

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While Novell may be the second largest commercial Linux distributor, it still gets the bulk of its sales off of NetWare and related products. The Open Enterprise Server hybrid, which puts NetWare services on top of SUSE Enterprise Linux, bridges the gap for Novell, and today, OES got a service pack to make it more appealing.

The company also announced that it has merged its ZENworks systems management tools with its recently acquired PlateSpin virtualization management tools and put them under a single PlateSpin brand.

OES 2, the second iteration of the hybrid platform, shipped in October 2007 and was delayed as Novell worked to get the integrated Xen virtualization in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 hardened with Service Pack 2 so virtualized NetWare 6.5 could run atop Xen. OES 1, which shipped in March 2005, allowed NetWare services to run on a Linux kernel or Linux services to run on a NetWare kernel. But when push came to shove and Novell needed to cut costs, it decided to virtualize NetWare and run it atop Xen inside SLES 10 and be done with it. Or, nearly so.

As it turns out, some bits of Linux just are not as good as the code that was in NetWare. And Service Pack 1 for OES 2, announced today, is about addressing some of the needs that NetWare customers have. First and foremost, OES 2 SP1 includes a new feature called Domain Services for Windows, which allows end users working from Windows-based PCs to access services and programs running on OES (either the NetWare or Linux bits) without having to invoke Microsoft's Active Directory access management software.

In fact, according to David Merrill, vice president of product management for Novell's Workgroup division, the DSW code, which runs on SLES, was designed to fully emulate Active Directory and does such a good job that systems administrators can use either Novell's iManager or Microsoft's Operations Manager to manage end user access through DSW.

The DSW code is not, by the way, just a reworked version of eDirectory, Novell's alternative to Active Directory and cross-platform directory services program; Active Directory is only supported on Windows platforms, but there are hooks into from other platforms. DSW is only available in OES 2 SP1, and Merrill says it is not yet available in SLES 10. But clearly it could be, but Novell may decide to keep it closed source and use it as a lever for OES sales.

OES 2 SP1 also includes a whole new set of protocols that allow NetWare and Linux servers running as part of OES to link into Windows and Apple networks for file and print services. NetWare was the kind of print and file services on the x86 platform, and had very good protocol support to link to many client operating systems. And many NetWare shops found the SAMBA print and file server for Windows and NetAtalk analog for Apple networks that comes in Linux distros to be wanting.

So Novell has coded a whole new set of software that implements the Common Internet File System (CIFS) protocol to link to Windows networks and the Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) for linking to Apple networks. This code is also not being open sourced and it is only available in OES 2 SP1.

In addition to these three new features, OES 2 SP1 includes iFolder 3.7 file management software, which now supports Mac and Linux clients. (Up until now, only Windows clients were supported.) While iFolder 3.7 is only technically supported on Novell's own SUSE Linux desktop, Merrill says that technically it should work on Red Hat or other Linux desktops.

iFolder 3.7 also allows multiple folders on a single machine for more sophisticated views and organization of files on a machine.

While OES 2 does not have any major changes to the NetWare side, the company says that it has made the process of upgrading to OES easier and boasts that it is now easier to move from NetWare 6.5 (the latest and probably the last NetWare release) to OES 2 than it was to move from NetWare 6.0 to NetWare 6.5.

OES 2 SP1 is available now. It is priced the old-fashioned way, based on the number of users and with absolute disregard for the number of servers or their processor sockets, to the tune of $258 a pop. Upgrading from NetWare to OES 2 costs $158 per user.

Novell gives volume discounts on large numbers of users, of course. Novell expects to get OES 2 SP1 into its Open Workgroup Suite, which includes GroupWise groupware and SLES desktops and other goodies, within the next 30 days.

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