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Technology / AI and automation


Albion Fitzgerald, chairman and founder of Novadigm Inc, is such a quietly spoken man, it’s difficult to reconcile him with the person apparently locked in fierce battle with Marimba Inc’s colorful leader Kim Polese, and he seems to think the publicity is detracting attention from Novadigm’s healthy business prospects. The lawsuit, which Fitzgerald claims Novadigm filed quietly last March to protect its patent on fractional differencing, a way of identifying which software needs updating on a client desktop, suddenly reached ugly proportions when push technology advocate Marimba went to the World Wide Web consortium W3C last month (CI No 3,233), to submit what it claimed was its own DRP Distribution and Replication protocol for use as a proposed standard for software distribution. This, claims Novadigm, is precisely the technology that is the subject of the patent infringement lawsuit. Ms Polese publicly hit back at Novadigm at the end of last month, saying its claims are baseless and completely without merit (CI No 3,234). She also claimed the filing of frivolous lawsuits was a tactic often used by firms who have failed to execute in the marketplace.

By Joanne Wallen

This makes Fitzgerald smile. The whole of the push technology market last year was worth around $35m, according to Forrester Research Inc, he says. We shipped $50m-worth of our EDM [Enterprise Desktop Manager] software last year. The trouble between the two companies began last year when Marimba published a white paper on its web site describing the technology it was apparently using to ‘push’ software updates out to companies. Novadigm says it looked carefully at this published information, and realized Marimba had come up with the same solution to the problem that Novadigm had discovered back in 1991 and subsequently patented. Since the patent application was under non-disclosure, Marimba could not have known about it until it was granted at the end of last year. I am not suggesting Marimba stole anything from us, says Fitzgerald. However, he says when Novadigm contacted Marimba to point out it that its white paper violated the patent, Marimba denied it had actually used the published technology in its product. When Novadigm failed to clarify the true situation, if filed the lawsuit, Fitzgerald says. Fitzgerald assured Computergram he had no interest in putting Marimba out of business or harming its growth in any way, and this was why Novadigm did not publicize the lawsuit.

Lawsuit publicity

White papers from our partners

Testament to the fact that it kept it out of the public eye is that the first the World Wide Web Consortium knew of it was after Marimba’s DRP submission. While Fitzgerald feels the fractional differencing technology is fundamental to the next stage of software distribution and management and therefore worth defending, he seems pained that the lawsuit publicity is deflecting from what is otherwise a serious, growth business with some huge blue chip customers. So what does Enterprise Desktop Manager do? Simply put, it automatically synchronizes ‘who has what’, with ‘who gets what’ in terms of versions of software, applications that people are entitled to, and the configuration they have on their desktop. A ‘desired state’ is defined for each user or set of users, specifying which applications and configurations a user should have. This desired state is then compared to the ‘actual state’ of a user’s desktop, using the patented fractional differencing technology, which enables comparisons to be made with minimal network traffic using computational calculations rather than comparing two lists. Only those components that do not match are then updated. The whole process is automated, but this is not push technology. Fitzgerald says push assumes that all users are plugged in to the network, and all can take exactly the same components, as in the Marimba/Java, write once run anywhere approach. Fitzgerald believes the whole web infrastructure is not right for the push, one-to-many paradigm, and will always be more suited to a many- to-many distribution.

Major players

EDM has intelligence to work out which version of an operating system is on the desktop, what hardware configuration is available and distribute updates accordingly. Mobile users, who may not be hooked into the network for weeks at a time, can invoke a connection as and when they require, and receive only the very latest updates appropriate to them. Novadigm has just announced eight new large scale implementations in major US companies which manage and distribute and update business- critical applications across thousands of desktops. These include Kaiser Permanente, MCI Corp, Metropolitan Life, Phillips Petroleum, Northwest Airlines, BankBoston, Carpenter Technologies Corp and retailer The Gap. In Europe, the company boasts some major players in the retail, finance and telecommunications sectors, including supermarket chain J Sainsbury Plc and Sweden’s LM Ericsson Telefon AB. Next month, Novadigm will announce its new internet-based product suite, code-named Charlotte which extends its technology to the internet and intranet and could ultimately see mobile phone-makers sending software updates to phone users over the internet (CI No 3,251). To listen to Fitzgerald, the Marimba dispute is just a storm in a teacup. He believes in technology terms, the relative newcomer has just invented the wheel, while Novadigm customers are already driving around in cars.

Back in the black

Novadigm, he says, has invested heavily over the past few years in setting up international operations and developing a very strong professional services group which can cope with implementing and supporting what the company sells. He cites Tivoli Inc as a company which failed to do this, and says even IBM Corp, which bought Tivoli and provided the professional services it was lacking, is now having trouble keeping up with its sales force. Novadigm, he says, cannot afford to be in that position. He confirms earlier predictions that the company, which reported increased first quarter losses in July of $2.1m on falling turnover down 28% at $4.5m, will be back in the black by the end of fiscal year 1998, which ends in March. So he is understandably keen not to be put off by his clash with Marimba’s chief executive, the woman Business Week dubbed The Madonna of Silicon Valley. Nevertheless, he is quietly determined to fight for ownership of a technology he believes is fundamental to the future of software distribution.
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CBR Staff Writer

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