Novell's expected delivery of its NetWare 5 platform in September, combined with continuing delays to the delivery of Windows NT 5.0, should go a long way toward helping Novell regain much of its credibility within corporate IT departments.
In fact, the gory mano a mano war expected between Microsoft Windows NT 5.0 and Novell NetWare 5 ultimately may turn out to be little more than a tempest in a teapot.
Much of Novell's installed base is anxious to migrate to NetWare 5's native IP environment and plans to separately evaluate NT 5.0 once it hits the market.
Microsoft next week will counter by showing a Beta 2 release candidate of NT 5.0 at a technical workshop in Seattle and still is shooting to deliver the beta version by month's end.
However, several beta testers said NT 5.0, which is expected to undergo a third beta cycle, will not by ready for deployment until sometime in 1999, at the earliest.
In fact, many users believe that although NetWare 5 will arrive in time for deployment before year 2000-related issues totally consume their resources, NT 5.0 adoption likely will get pushed out to after the year 2000.
As a result, Novell will be able to claim a tactical victory over Microsoft in September.
Earlier this month the Gartner Group predicted that Microsoft would not deliver a fully functioning beta version of NT 5.0 until 1999. Gartner Group analysts recommended that corporate users stick with Windows NT 4.0 and the appropriate versions of NetWare or Unix.
Beginning with the delivery of NetWare 5, much of the war of words between the two vendors will shift toward issues surrounding their respective directory strategies.
Next week's announcement that Novell is embracing a meta-directory approach is a step in the right direction. Novell has also changed its marketing tune from one of competition with Microsoft to one of "coopetition".
Since Eric Schmidt took the helm as Novell CEO in 1997, the company has started marketing solutions designed to enhance existing Microsoft products with better management and directory integration.
Novell officials seem to have realised that leveraging the company's strengths in the networking arena to enhance Microsoft's vastly popular software solutions and promote interoperability may be the best way to keep its customers from deserting NetWare for Windows NT.
At least one analyst said the NT delay is a double-edged sword for Novell.
Shipping an "attractive, stable upgrade well before 2000 is good timing for Novell", said Jamie Lewis, president of the Burton Group. But "the sooner NT 5.0 and Active Directory are real shipping products that people can compare against NetWare 5, the better".
Meanwhile, Beta 2 of NT 5.0 will mark the debut of Microsoft's NDS (Novell Directory Services) Migration tool, designed to ease the move from NetWare to NT, according to Jonathan Perera, Windows NT product manager.
And for Microsoft, such moves ultimately may help the company buy some much- needed time.