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October 5, 1999

Novell Unveils DigitalMe ‘Cookie Jar’

By CBR Staff Writer

By William Fellows

Do you have trouble remembering all the user names and passwords you’ve had to create on the web? Are you tired of continuous form filling and updating personal information? Eric Schmidt is. Cookies and their inaccessibility to users was always one of his bugbears when he was CTO at Sun Microsystems Inc. Now that he’s CEO of Novell Inc, he’s been able to do something about it. The company has built what’s effectively a ‘cookie jar’ called DigitalMe on top of Novell Directory Services (NDS) which consumers can get their hands on through the portals, ASPs, ISPs and retailers Novell hopes will buy DigitalMe, but more importantly, the NDS server it runs on.

Novell has created a free site to stimulate consumer interest, but the value proposition for the company is that DigitalMe customers will be able to develop more seamless communities with their partners, make sites more usable for visitors and build single repositories of customer data, says Novell.

DigitalMe is an identity-management system which Schmidt says he hopes will make everyone’s life on the net easier by providing a place to store all user names and passwords, preferences, bookmarks, offers one click web form filling and auto-updating of web sites plus integrated email and a web implementation of America Online Instant Messaging, which Novell has branded Instantme. The information is stored securely in NDS directories, not in a cookie on the desktop. Moreover, Novell says that information stored in multiple desktop cookies – the multiple user names, passwords and profiles – can be slurped up into DigitalMe.

It’s a strategic and visionary step for Novell which is pushing the usability envelope again many years after its NetWare was introduced enabling users to share applications and files around the office over local area networks. It also gives Novell’s NDS yet another leg-up over Microsoft Corp and its competing Active Directory system which will ship sometime next year as part of Windows 2000. Microsoft already offers a more limited single-sign on product called Passport.

Because DigitalMe uses the emerging electronic commerce modeling language (ECML), Novell claims DigitalMe will be able to support one-click use of multiple electronic payment systems, including micropayment systems, and over a period of time most types of form filling. Users create a master profile from which subsets, called Mecards are drawn containing different levels of personalized information – say for business, entertainment or personal use – enabling users to decide what type of details they disclose to a web site. Everything is encrypted – including Instantme – because it uses NDS’ RSA security and supports PKI. DigitalMe uses Java, XML, Win32, ActiveX, browser and directory technology and supports NetWare, NT, Solaris, IBM and Linux operating systems.

Schmidt told ComputerWire that nothing on the market can match DigitalMe because of NDS’ inherent scalability, replication and security. When Novell ships Personal NDS, DigitalMe will also enable disconnected users to have their information updated when they reconnect, or presumably over wireless connections. He argues that DigitalMe – or anything similar – is unlikely to be replaced by biometric technologies including fingerprint and retina recognition or even smart cards as there are, and always will be, too many competing protocols and incompatible card readers.

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Although Schmidt declined to comment on questions relating to Active Directory as being altogether hypothetical he fully expects Microsoft to develop a product which competes with DigitalMe on top of AD that goes well beyond its existing Passport system. We found other Novell executives only too enthusiastic to admit that Novell will interact with Active Directory and whatever DigitalMe-like product it supports when it eventually ships. Moreover Novell says it also expects to add support for AOL’s ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, Tribal Voice PowWow and other messag

ing applications to Instantme over time.

As well as a lever to sell NDS, Novell hopes that DigitalMe will drive sales of its vault products which can be used as a directory-based data store for DigitalMe users’ information. DigitalMe is the first in a series of products out of Steve Adams’ In-the-Net Services Group and uses IP developed internally and by partners. It counts AOL, Citigroup, Compaq, Verisign and White Pine as partners.

Novell claims its research shows the average online user has to remember four passwords to access web sites and that 20% of users have three or more email accounts. It claims 80% of US top 500 companies and 30% of the world’s largest 500 companies are NDS customers.

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