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, 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, 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.
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 away, and Microsoft still has quite a way 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.
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 time and quite a few deployments 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 NOSs. 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 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 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 and making travel arrangements for Networld+ Interop, you are no doubt honing your NOS strategy. But take heart, it is not a winner-take-all proposition. Don't think that the NOS war will end with the millennium, because things are just starting to get interesting.