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Novell Inc. gave its NetWare and Linux users a Christmas present by releasing the first public beta of Novell Open Enterprise Server over the holiday weekend.

OES is Novell’s dual operating system, NetWare services platform. It can run on top of either SLES (SuSE Linux Enterprise Server) 9.0 or the NetWare 7.0 kernel or both. “We’re not dropping NetWare; we are adding Linux,” explained Jack Messman, Novell’s chairman and CEO.

NetWare, however, will no longer be sold as a standalone operating system. Instead, it will continue as part of OES.

“Our current customers paying for maintenance will get Open Enterprise Server as part of that agreement, while new customers will be on a user-based pricing structure,” Messman said in an interview earlier this year.

“But we have not decided on the formal pricing for Enterprise Server as yet. However, we are not going to abandon any Linux-based or NetWare-based user.”

Novell’s resellers have been bullish about the move to Linux. It’s a “smart move,” Robert Gogolen, president of EMF Inc., a Keene, N.H.-based integrator, said last spring at BrainShare, Novell’s annual reseller tradeshow.

“It can’t help but to break them out of the perception that Novell is dying. Far too many people only looked at Novell being NetWare, and didn’t look at its first-rate enterprise programs like ZENworks and eDirectory.

With the new operating platform, administrators will be able oversee to both NetWare and SLES servers with a common management interface: iManager for NetWare. In addition, administrators will be able to manage and update their systems with Novell’s ZENworks.

With OES, system managers also will be able to install software using the popular, open-source RPM (RPM Package Manager) for NetWare. SLES, of course, already has RPM support.

Regardless of the underlying operating system, OES users will be able to run existing NetWare services. These include Novell file services, such as NetStorage and NSS (Novell Storage Services), and eDirectory for network directory services.

In addition, NetWare services that are currently supplied to Linux servers by Nterprise Linux Services 1.0 have been incorporated into OES. These are such services as iFolder, Novell’s network directory system, and print services such as iPrint.

On the client side, Novell is making iFolder, using Mono, available to both Windows and Linux desktop clients. With this, users will be able to transparently share files across both operating systems’ desktops. Novell is also issuing an iPrint client for NLD (Novell Linux Desktop) so that Linux desktop users will be able to point and click to install NetWare/OES printers.

Users who want to give the public beta a try will need to have SLES 9.2 or NetWare 6.5 SP3 or higher. Both operating systems are also available at Novell’s download site.

At this time, OES is available only for x86 architectures. You also will need at least a 700MHz processor, 512MBs of RAM and a bootable CD drive. If you’re installing OES on NetWare, you’ll also need a DOS partition with at least 200MBs of available space.

The shipping version of OES is expected to appear in February 2005. Pricing has not yet been determined.

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