Directory technology serves as a sort of "white pages" of information about computer users and resources, such as PCs, software and devices like printers or routers. Using it as a central database of information, a network manager can allow certain groups to access certain information on a network that others may not be allowed to see, for example.
Novell's announcement, made this week at the Networld+Interop networking industry trade show in Las Vegas, represents a shift in the company's strategy. Its directory was previously sold on a "per user" basis, with fees for each system it ran on.
The company hopes that by giving away its directory services software--called eDirectory--it can spur adoption of the technology and spark a wave of software developer interest. Attracting developers to Novell's technology has long been an Achilles' heel for the company.
Novell Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said in an interview Tuesday that he wants to wait until the technology is running effectively on multiple operating systems before formally offering eDirectory for free.
"The technology is ready," Schmidt said. Giving it away "was the right strategy, but we had to deliver."
Novell's roots are in the operating system business. At one time, its NetWare software propelled sales. But in recent years, NetWare has taken a back seat to eDirectory.
Others in the industry also have directory technology. Microsoft made its Active Directory a focal point of its efforts to drive sales of its Windows 2000 server operating system to corporations. Database software giant Oracle, IBM and iPlanet--the alliance between Sun Microsystems and AOL Time Warner subsidiary Netscape Communications--also sell directory technology.
Novell's eDirectory runs on several server operating systems, including NetWare, Windows 2000, Sun's Solaris, Linux and Compaq Computer's Tru64 Unix. It will soon be available on IBM's AIX brand of Unix. Novell says the technology serves 139 million computer users.
Novell plans to package free copies with its other software products, such as its ZenWorks management tools and iChain e-business system. Novell said it is signing up third-party partners for the free version of eDirectory and plans to have distribution kits available by the end of June.
Separately, Novell's planned $266 million merger with Cambridge Technology Partners is expected to close soon, with newly appointed Novell Chief Executive Jack Messman announcing an accompanying management team made up largely of Novell's existing executives, Schmidt said. Schmidt plans to serve as chairman and chief strategist upon completion of the merger.