Microsoft is expanding capability of its directory technology to allow customers to more easily add new applications to their network. The directory technology essentially provides a network manager with a central database to store and manage information about users, computer systems and networking devices. Microsoft competes against Novell and Sun Microsystems in the directory-server software market. Microsoft's Active Directory is included in Windows 2000. A forthcoming version of the operating system, called the Windows .Net Server, will include a new capability called Active Directory in Application Mode. With the application mode, companies can manage access to software that runs on Windows-based networks much easier, said Jackson Shaw, Microsoft's Active Directory product manager. For example, a business can use the directory technology for one specific function, such as a portal Web site for a department, without having to store that information in the main corporate directory, he said. Analyst Michael Cherry, of Directions on Microsoft, said the new feature should offer more flexibility to Microsoft customers by cutting down on the need to synchronize data stored in different places across a network, which can eat up bandwidth. "It removes another objection to using Active Directory," Cherry said. While Active Directory is already included in the Windows 2000 at no extra cost, Shaw would not comment on packaging or pricing of .Net Server. Sun and Novell already offer so-called lightweight directory software, so Microsoft is simply providing another option for its customers, Shaw said. The new capability will be available shortly after Microsoft releases .Net Server, which is due out by the end of the year. News.com's Wylie Wong contributed to this report.