Novell dives into app dev

Looking to shed its image as a staid network OS company, Novell Inc. next week 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 will ripen Monday at the Gartner Symposium/ITXpo in Orlando, Fla., where Novell will announce Novell exteNd Version 4.0, a development suite for building, integrating, and deploying Web applications and Web services.

exteNd 4.0, priced at US$90,000 per server CPU, represents the development crown jewels Novell was aiming for when it bought SilverStream Software Inc. in July, according to officials at the Provo, Utah-based company.

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

Honing 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 Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

“NetWare is a difficult platform for application development. As a result, organizations 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 Inc. and IBM Corp. application servers. The release also enhances exteNd’s portal functionality and presentation capabilities with a visual drag-and-drop customization tool that lets developers customize the portal experience. For example, developers can use the tool to create portal themes or to define the presentation characteristics.

“[We] now have a complete portal story with Novell Portal Services and Extend Director. [SilverStream] was missing components and portlets; Novell was missing a strong framework for business process and workflow,” said Steve Benfield, chief technology evangelist for Web application development at Novell. “We have one product team doing both now.”

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 and identity- and policy-based management technologies, enabling developers to inject security features such as single sign-on into applications from the ground up.

“Right now, security across the corporate enterprise isn’t built into the apps themselves,” said Nugent. “But looking ahead to when you have 100 or 500 Web services working in your enterprise over the next few years, the management complexity just starts growing. You will need to think about [security] in advance.”

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.

Also on the roadmap, exteNd 5 will include support for emerging portal standards such as JSR (Java Specification Request) 168, WSRP (Web Services for Remote Portals), and WSIA (Web Services for Interactive Applications).

Forthcoming support for JSR 168 will help further integrate Novell’s existing Portal Services offering with exteNd Director, Benfield said.

The three pieces of exteNd 4.0 include: exteNd Director, which is Novell’s interaction play for exporting services and Web apps to end-user targets such as its portal; exteNd Composer, which is an XML-based application integration broker used to create new Web services out of existing process logic and applications in back-end systems; and the application server.

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 reflects directly customers’ wishes, Nugent said.