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Novell introduces goal: putting a friendly face on computer networking

Meet the friendly face of networking: it knows who you are, what you need and doesn't care where you are when you want it.

Novell Inc. CEO Eric Schmidt made the introductions to the "new face" of networks during his keynote speech at COMDEX Fall '97, emphasizing a computing world based on intelligent networks tailored to individuals that are easy to use and manage."The new face of networking has a human face, and it has as many faces as there are users on the network today," Schmidt said.

Schmidt was the last of four top technology leaders to speak at the computer trade show; it was his first appearance before the COMDEX throngs as head of Novell. Schmidt joined the company, which has Utah offices in Provo and Orem and another in San Jose, Calif., in April; he left a post as technology vice president at Sun Microsystems.

Schmidt inherited a conundrum at Novell. Although it is the premier networking company with some 60 million users of NetWare products around the world, it's been criticized as unfocused in recent years and is under siege from Microsoft's NT system.

Schmidt's task is to get the company back on track. So far, he's eliminated management layers, guided Novell back to its networking roots and is pushing the company to embrace Sun's Java programming language and the Internet in its products.

Novell made a major play at COMDEX/Fall '97 this year to get its name and technology in front of attendees. It set up a massive intranet for the trade show that allowed any one to send and receive e-mail, surf the Internet and check daily events.

The banks of computers were rarely idle, and by midweek the system was keeping up with the challenge of processing about 1.8 million messages a day.

"I think (that) is incredible," Schmidt said.

On Wedneday, he gave soft-sell pitches for those products as he described the ever growing importance of dynamic networks that can adapt to people's needs.

Rather than tie individuals to specific PCs loaded with individual applications, put the programs on the network and build "digital personas" that give users customized access to the things they need to get jobs done.

"My essential thesis here is that there are two intertwining issues. The human face of networking is interactive and changing," Schmidt said. "And, that the adoption of technology is driven by increasing returns."

In other words, users get the personalized "face" on the network they want and companies get more productivity, systems that are easy to operate and that save money.

"By moving the complexity of the (PC) onto the network, you can pull that off," Schmidt said.

Novell is not the only company pushing this approach, he said. In addition to Novell, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Netscape and IBM all have initiatives that revolve around open network-based computing that embrace the Java programming language - which Schmidt said is "more than a dancing bear on your Web site; it's really the language of electronic commerce."

"Microsoft has named this the Gang of Five, and feels it's a conspiracy," he said. "I'd prefer to think of it as being right."

Schmidt and several Novell engineers demonstrated how the intelligent network recognizes a "digital persona with inalienable rights" by setting up a mythical CEO on an IntranetWare network linked to a computer running Windows NT.

The "boss" logs into the network once to gain access to e-mail, files, groupware, other applications, including a Web browser, and print services.

For the system administrator, the process requires only setting up a profile for the boss and specifying what he could access on the network.

"I'm a CEO, not really a computer geek - well, maybe a little bit," said Gary Hein, the Novell employee playing the part of the boss. "So, I really don't care about operating systems and protocols. I just need to have applications on a desktop to do my job."

The demo allowed Novell to showcase all its current product line, from IntranetWare, Border- Manager and GroupWise to Novell Directory Services. Schmidt also got in a plug for the Netscape server made by Novonyx, a company funded by Netscape and Novell.

"What we've done essentially is taken all the complexity that you all deal with every day and put it in a place which is in the network," Schmidt said.

The short-term goal for Novell is covering the basics - Management 101 stuff, Schmidt said.

Deliver products on time, solve customers' problems. Then, within nine months, it's "drive and thrive" time as Novell delivers the next version of NetWare called Moab that will be infused with Internet capabilities and on to a product that is "very much Java-based."

"We will win because we have a product strategy in place that will reconcile the drive towards this new face of networking with the reality that many of you deal with," Schmidt said.