AOL-Novell: One giant leap for NDS?

While America Online and Novell are portraying as a win-win situation their deal to integrate AOL Instant Messenger with Novell Directory Services (NDS), Novell seems to be the one walking away with the most loot.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Unlike operating system rival Microsoft Corp., Novell did not have an instant messaging offering. As a result of the AOL deal signed on Wednesday, it does now. And the company has big plans for integrating AOL Instant Messenger with its GroupWise groupware offering, as well as with its Digitalme "digital identity" software it is developing, say Novell executives.

Equally importantly, Novell's deal with AOL gives it a "foot in the door" with some of the other Instant Messenger partners AOL has signed as of late. As part of their ongoing instant messenging battle, AOL and Microsoft have been signing up partners at a frantic pace. AOL has announced messenging alliances with ISPs Earthlink and Mindspring Enterprises, as well as with Apple Computer. "We can offer these guys [AOL's partners] management, control and integration through NDS," says Novell director of NDS product marketing Samm DiStasio. "All are very fertile territory for us. The deal with AOL makes our vision relevant to them."

AOL hardly walks away from the Novell deal empty-handed, however. By partnering with Novell, AOL has a better story to tell corporate users interested in Instant Messenger, but who want security, control, policy-based management and the other features NDS brings to the party.

Novell and AOL are working together on a co-branded instant messaging client that corporate users can employ to trade private intranet messages via NDS. In addition to integrating with GroupWise and Digitalme, the co-branded client also will tie directly into other Novell NDS-enabled products like Novell's Zenworks desktop-management software.

AOL also gets, as part of the deal, a commitment from Novell to develop a co-branded business portal using Netscape's Custom Netcenter product. The portal will be aimed at the business audience and marketed by Novell and its channel to Novell customers.

The Novell-NDS deal is not exclusive and doesn't mean AOL can't or won't engage in similar integration projects with other vendors. Would Microsoft be interested in forging an AOL Instant Messenger-Active Directory integration pact? Microsoft did not respond by press time to that question. In the meantime, Microsoft is continuing to build its own partnerships for its MSN Messenger client, and has built an impressive set of alliances for itself with Activerse Inc., AT&T Corp., Excite@Home Inc., Infoseek Corp., Prodigy Communications Corp., Tribal Voice Inc. and Yahoo! Inc.

In addition, going forward, Microsoft is looking to integrate MSN Messenger with its Outlook Express, address books and other services to create a unified client.

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