In the six months or so since former Sun Microsystems Inc chief technologist Eric Schmidt took over the reins as chief executive of Novell Inc, he has had to deal with all those messy things that trouble the life of every CEO, such as red ink, inventory write-downs and job losses. Schmidt took the bold step in May of axing 1,000 jobs after discovering an over-staffed organization and an overstuffed channel, which led to heavy third quarter losses. The company’s fourth quarter results next Tuesday will reveal the extent of the recovery. Schmidt now says the channel is super-clean and we’ll keep it that way. Making the final keynote speech at this year’s equally overstuffed and overstaffed Comdex in Las Vegas, Schmidt said that on taking over the company he found the technology better than I expected, but the business aspects harder than expected. In order to keep the channel clear, sales staff are now only paid once the end user pays up – they used to get paid for filling the channel. And like everybody else, Novell is looking towards e-commerce to get bigger margins. After it has sold the initial ‘red box’ version of NetWare to a customer, it plans to rely on downloads for the upgrades until, perhaps, the next full version. That policy has already started, he said, but will be fully in place by the time the next version of NetWare ships, code-named Moab. It entered beta a week ago. It’s the native IP version of NetWare, and therefore crucial to our strategy, says Schmidt. It removes the dependency on the company’s IPX protocol. Schmidt said he didn’t know why IP support has taken so long, at Novell, saying the problem stemmed from before his time. However, talking to the press, Schmidt said the current beta 1 is missing some compatibility features and the real beta – number 2 – will arrive by the year end, with the full version arriving about six months later.
Schmidt’s new senior VP sales lured from the Object Management Group (OMG), John Slitz said that version would be called NetWare 5, as there had been some speculation that the company was about to drop its most famous brand name. The timetable slipped to this schedule back in the summer, but does not look like slipping any further. The company’s joint venture with Netscape Communications Corp, Novonyx Inc, will put its web server into beta next week. It is based on Netscape’s FastTrack web server and will be the primary web server supported by Novell, said Schmidt. Schmidt is annoyed with the rumors that circulated about the supposed demise of GroupWise, Novell’s groupware product. He says it’ll be the last [product] standing, and the next cut will ship in early summer 1998, featuring new internet capabilities written in Java, which brings us to the caffeinated language. Schmidt says there are about 200 people working on Java in the company at present. All the engineers had mandatory Java training over the summer and all the key personnel will be trained within a year. Schmidt was heavily involved with the development of Java at Sun. He said that whereas in the past all Novell’s product announcements were saved for the company’s BrainShare bash in March – he admitted a product drought over the summer – it would make monthly announcements from now on, all based on adding value on top of its directory services. He sees a strategy moving through being the TCP/IP leader by next year, more directory-enabled applications and to NetWare running Java best leading to the company’s ambition to be the primary middle-tier server vendor as that’s where Schmidt’s beloved Java will make the most impact on the server side, he thinks.
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