Although it seems like an entry in a list of the unlikeliest products of our time, Novell Inc has just launched a version of the NetWare network operating system with the file-serving bits stripped out. To be precise, the company has issued a single-user version of NetWare 3.11. This one connection is provided simply so that an administrator can get into the box; other than that, the only way into the operating system is via the NetWare Loadable Modules that it runs. NetWare Runtime 3.11 is an indication of just how important those little applications that can run on the server have become – NetWare Runtime is dedicated to running NetWare Loadable Modules, and the company is quite simply calling it an ideal alternative to Unix and OS/2-based servers. This comes as bit of a shock to those of us that had thought of NetWare Loadable Modules as a nice way to run little applications on file servers – here is Novell touting NetWare as a suitable candidate for OEM customers to write their networked applications. Only a few years ago, after all, it was accusing Microsoft Corp of trying to turn a sows ear into a silk purse by building a network operating system – LAN Manager – on top of a general operating system – OS/2; isn’t this the same trick, but the other way around – trying to turn a network operating system into an applications environment? Not according to Bruce Scott, senior vice-president of research and development at Menlo Park, California-based Gupta Technologies Inc who has had experience of putting the same application up under Unix, OS/2 and NetWare and is obviously enamoured with what the last has to offer. Look at the architecture of the older NetWare 2.2 and you will find a file server operating system, he says, and consequently the Value-Added Processes it runs are pretty kluge-like. Netware 3.11 and NetWare Loadable Modules, on the other hand, meet with his approval, and he has the performance figures to back it up. Novell of course has a 20% stake in Gupta but, nonetheless, the fact that the company has implemented SQLBase Server for Novell, Unix and Microsoft environments makes his views worth listening to. Our testing shows that we out-perform almost three times on NetWare over OS/2, Scott says. NetWare also holds up well when compared with Unix. Exact comparisons are difficult, since the hardware differs and the Sun version is not quite finished yet; though running a Sun Microsystems Inc Sparcstation 2 versus a 33MHz Compaq Computer Corp 80486-based Deskpro box showed the NetWare-Compaq version running 10% faster. There is a downside however.
Novell’s uncompromising search for performance means that it is difficult to develop NetWare Loadable Modules compared with Sun Unix, according to Scott. Not surprisingly, Unix comes with a better set of developers’ tools, and NetWare is also hampered by the hardware it uses – Scott says that the lack of proper memory management on the current Intel iAPX-86 range means that a badly written Loadable Module can bring down the entire server. Nonetheless, Scott reckons that the fact that NetWare supports the Unix C library makes transferring applications to the network operating system fairly easy and crashing NetWare Loadable Modules should not pose too many problems, since Novell exercises close control over who produces commercial Modules. Access to development tools is restricted to members of the company’s developers’ programme, and commercial Modules through a testing and approval process before being unleashed on NetWare users. Does Scott think that Novell is making a bid for the general-purpose operating system market? No, he says, I don’t think we are going to see C programmers compiling code on it. Maybe not, but when it comes to server-based applications, we could see NetWare Runtime give Unix a run for its money, especially if a native version appears on something like the Hewlett Packard Co RISC systems. NetWare Runtime comes complete with remote management facility TCP/IP protocol stack, Btrieve, SBackup, Enabled transport protoco
ls, AppleTalk support package and one NCP connection – for administrative purposes only. While the company claims that it is a cost-effective way of bundling NetWare with a NetWare Loadable Module, no developer prices have yet been made available. Existing Modules should work with the new Runtime and it should be possible to off-load Modules onto Runtime-based packages.