Not the same old server software

Wired Windows

I’m right in the midst of previewing the new features and functionality of the upcoming server releases from Novell Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

Some pundits have alleged that NetWare 6.5 and Windows Server 2003 (aka Windows 6.0) are only minimal improvements over their predecessors, NetWare 6.0 and Windows 2000. If you look at the core operating systems, that might be close to being true (if the lighting is low, and you squint) but that’s not the important thing about these upcoming releases.

Provo and Redmond face the same problem – users who are quite happy to continue using Version 4 of their server operating systems. Heck, Novell still has a significant number of users running Version 3 of NetWare, but it appears there’s absolutely nothing else Novell Vice-Chairman Chris Stone and his crew can do to get those 15- to 20-year-old systems uprooted. So they no longer try.

But both Stone and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer know that the fiscal well-being of their companies rests with enticing people to trade up from NetWare 4.X and 5.X to NetWare 6.5, and from NT 4 and Windows 2000 to Windows Server 2003. Both, it seems, have learned a lesson from the automakers.

Gas-mileage requirements have pretty much dictated the aerodynamic design of today’s automobiles. The radical designs of the late 1950s and early 1960s might never be seen again. So automakers compete on interior features and add-ons. And that’s where the new network server operating systems also will compete. It’s less about competing with each other, though, and only partially about competing with Linux and Unix systems. The real battle is to get those older operating systems upgraded and updated. After all, the network managers running those older systems already believe they have made the right choice of vendor, so half the battle is won.

Both Novell and Microsoft are adding large amounts of utilities and functionality to their servers, including major features to overcome traditionally weak areas: application services for NetWare and security services for Windows. If you are running older NetWare or Windows be sure to check out all the new goodies offered in the new systems shipping in the next few months.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at