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April 29, 1997updated 05 Sep 2016 12:50pm

PATTERNS IN SOFTWARE DESIGN – PART 2

By CBR Staff Writer

This is the second portion of a two-part story from our sister publication, Software Futures. The first part appeared in the April 25 edition of Computergram International.

With Directory Server 2 due out this quarter as a prime component in its server architecture, the company has painted itself into something of a corner. Does it go with proprietary extensions to LDAP 2, protecting its development work on Directory Server 2 to date, ignoring the apparent departure from its own open standards proclamation, and hoping that the extensions will surface in LDAP 3 after all? At worst, Netscape’s implementation would become orphaned. More realistically, Directory Server 2 may see the light of day complete with non-standard enhancements which would be deprecated but not disabled – a sort of ‘caveat emptor approach’ which would make careful users avoid the enhancements anyway. Even if Directory Server 2 was stripped back to vanilla LDAP 2 before release, however, it seems unlikely to spell the end of directory service and the known universe; for now Netscape is publicly treating the whole problem as a non- issue.

‘Open standards’, of course, is a selective policy, nowhere more obviously so than in Netscape’s approach to Microsoft. Despite a certain amount of cheek, the company treads carefully around Microsoft and judiciously plays up compatibilities between the two companies’ products. Netscape would like nothing better than to cut loose of the Windows platforms on which so much of its server volume is hosted, but without an Intel operating system of its own that’s out of the question. Last year the company licensed ActiveX, on which Microsoft has pinned its own strategy, but its support for the component architecture is guarded; the license has so far appeared as insurance.

Analysts The Burton Group believe that Netscape’s own Open Network Environment (ONE), a software framework which in its early stages contributed little more than a hotch-potch of third- party products, is set to become an important factor as the intranet server market matures. The Group even suggests that users may have to weigh ActiveX support against ONE when considering the purchase of a Netscape server in future. The server upgrades due this quarter lend weight to that argument; while retaining compatibility – particularly in the area of server-side scripting – with ActiveX, their accompanying development tools emphasize features from ONE and downplay Microsoft alternatives.

Netscape must also cope with Redmond’s Active Server platform, which defines Windows NT Server 4.0 support for remotely-hosted ActiveX components, server-side scripting, and HTML together with development tools and the Microsoft SQL Server database. Netscape’s server software, while broadly compatible with Active Server, runs on a greater proportion of Unix hosts than on Windows NT. The company will want to avoid being elbowed into paying excessive attention to Windows NT and Active Server.

Where intranets are concerned, existing LANs are too common to be ignored as hosts for new server installations. The use of existing LANs in turn implies a relationship with Novell, whose NetWare line, despite leading the LAN market with over 60m installed users, has been slow to enter the intranet market. Last month, Netscape moved with Novell to fill the gap, by forming the jointly-held Novonyx for the purpose of putting Netscape servers on Novell networks. Although the move might seem overdue, neither company has been in a position to make it beforehand. Netscape’s servers, being based on Internet protocols, preferred the TCP/IP backbone to the IPX/SPX transport found on most Novell systems. Novell was loath to make a move away from its proprietary protocol. Recently, however, the company has begun shipping IntranetWare, an intranet-targeted network operating system.

IntranetWare is designed to support Internet standards, using a layer of NetWare Loadable Modules (NLMs) running on top of a NetWare 4.1 LAN. Its release has given Novell’s reputation a much-needed boost; for the first time, the company is being viewed with credibility in an area that it should have occupied long ago. For Netscape, porting its products to IntranetWare offers entry into a huge base of intranets, whose foundations are complete and which require only the upper layer that Netscape’s server line can supply.

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None of this will happen quickly, however. Although Novonyx’s stated goal is to deliver the whole of SuiteSpot on IntranetWare, of the nine server components due out in SuiteSpot 3.0 only one – Enterprise Server – will be among the new company’s first two offerings. The other is FastTrack; clearly Novonyx hopes that, by making both a corporate-capable and an entry-level Web server available to IntranetWare customers, it will gain maximum interest from users as early as possible. There’s a psychological element at work, too: Web pages provide the most attractive lever for getting users onto an intranet, and Netscape’s server line reflects Web connectivity as its greatest strength. The first of the Netscape/Novell server products will not ship until at least the third quarter of 1997. Delivery targets for additional Netscape components from Novonyx have not been made public at this stage.

Novonyx will be worth watching for its politics as well as its products; the two parent companies will need to balance support for their own products in cases where they overlap. Novell, for example, has shipped its own NetWare Web Server for some time. PC Week quotes Vic Langford, Novell’s senior vice president of Internet strategies, as saying that Web Server will continue to ship with IntranetWare whether it comes direct from Novell or via Novonyx. If this is still the case when Novonyx’s first offerings appear, an IntranetWare user will have the dubious privilege of choosing from three servers when implementing their first intranet.

With Novonyx, Netscape gains access for its servers to the biggest intranet market going begging, and has made an early lunge for the 50% share of intranets that it has its eye on. But the company has so far focused less on particular user-bases than on the Internet technology with which it supplies them; its goal of becoming the dominant supplier of Internet-standard, multimedia messaging perhaps better reflects its history than an incursion into LANs via intranets. To achieve that goal its server range still has some catching up to do.

In hosting threaded discussions Netscape’s News Server, currently shipping in version 2.01, has always been functional rather than fantastic, and the company sensibly bought Collabra Software Inc in 1995 to address its shortcomings. Collabra’s Share product made a better job of message administration, but was based not on the Internet’s standard Network News Transport Protocol (NNTP) but on an alternative developed in-house. Netscape added the conversion to NNTP and renamed the product Collabra Server, which is due to replace News Server in the Netscape range.

Mail Server 2.0 also evolved from a buy-in, this time a source- code license for Post.Office from messaging vendor Software.com, which merged in the middle of last year with Accordance Corp. Mail Server will have to wait for its upgrade to Messaging Server – the forthcoming version – before it offers either LDAP compatibility with the rest of Netscape’s servers or support for the latest enhancements to the Internet Mail Access Protocol (IMAP4). Users are beginning to watch closely for IMAP4 compatibility: unlike the less-powerful Post Office Protocol (POP 3), IMAP supports multiple-user mailboxes (vital for roaming clients); it also allows message headers to be previewed independently of the associated content (an important time-saver when deciding whether to download a bloated, multimedia presentation).

If Netscape is to push into the multimedia messaging field, its Media Server will need some work. Put against Microsoft’s NetShow, for instance, its biggest advantage seems to be support for the brand-new Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP), which is barely in the IETF’s hands and is far from being a standard. Where Media Server provides only audio streaming, NetShow offers video as well. The Internet itself, with low average bandwidths available for streaming, will give Netscape some breathing space; the company claims that 28k8bps is a realistic minimum for audio alone, which makes NetShow’s video support an unlikely reason for users to prefer it in that context. But that argument won’t hold water with intranet customers, for whom bandwidth is much less of a problem and for whom NetShow’s video messaging may be more attractive. Streaming audio, after all, isn’t much of an advance on an existing corporate telephone network.

Summary

That Netscape has, in less than two years, progressed from its initial public offering to being a credible supplier of Internet clients and servers across the board is impressive. The company already has a large slice of the Web server market to add to its client-side lead, and is gradually rounding out its server family with additional, LDAP-aware Internet services. Despite recognizing the gap in integrated multimedia messaging, some of Netscape’s servers need to develop further in order to fill it; the company’s prediction that the field will provide 1997’s killer application appears to have been overly ambitious. Its alliance with Novell and the consequent opening into IntranetWare has the potential to bring a large base of LAN users onto intranets built around Netscape servers. It will be 1997 before the success of Novonyx can be judged, but it may prove to be the most significant alliance yet in the intranet market.

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