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Novell dives into app development

Looking to shed its image as a staid network OS company, Novell is unleashing a new strategy focused on Web services development, secure ID management, cross-platform network services and consulting.

The first fruits of the strategy ripened last week at the Gartner Symposium/ITXpo, where Novell announced Novell exteNd Version 4.0, a development suite for building, integrating, and deploying Web applications and Web services.exteNd 4.0, priced at $A163,657 per server CPU, represents the development crown jewels Novell was aiming for when it bought application server company SilverStream Software in July.

"Novell did not acquire SilverStream for its app server. The main thrust was the exteNd environment to put on top of J2EE," said Novell chief technology officer Alan Nugent. "Novell's customer base is excited to have a development environment in the core product."

Lasering in on application development is a wise approach, given Novell's large NetWare installed base, according to Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of systems software for market analyst IDC.

"NetWare is a difficult platform for application development. As a result, organisations that use [it] never saw it as an application platform. They only saw it as a platform for basic network services," Kusnetzky said.

Adding a J2EE and XML-based development suite to the equation might alter that perception, he said.

New features in exteNd 4.0 include J2EE 1.3 compliance and expanded platform support for BEA Systems and IBM application servers. The release also enhances exteNd's portal functionality and presentation capabilities with a visual drag-and-drop customisation tool that lets developers customise the portal experience. For example, developers can use the tool to create portal themes or to define the presentation characteristics.

Novell is also detailing a roadmap spanning out over the first half of next year.

By the first quarter of 2003, Novell will port SilverStream's app server to NetWare. Meanwhile, in the first half of 2003, the company plans to combine exteNd with its directory, identity-based and policy-based management technologies, enabling developers to inject security features such as single sign-on into applications from the ground up.

As part of its approach to securing applications and services, Novell said it will support industry standards that are now emerging. And in keeping with the tech-agnostic theme, Novell has also begun making its NetWare services available on Linux, Solaris, and Windows, Nugent said.

Kusnetzky said Novell's historically top-notch technology portfolio has been overshadowed by companies such as Microsoft for a variety of reasons, among them poor marketing. Additionally, the company has placed too much emphasis on wooing technical types, to the exclusion of business decision-makers who wield more influence over technology budgets today.

The company's new strategy could catapult it back into prime time, but only "if they can get the message out and to the right people", Kusnetzky said.

That's a change the new Novell is pledging to make, with less emphasis on engineering and more on product development that directly reflects customers' wishes, Nugent said.