I think NetWare is going to make a comeback. No! Stop laughing. I'm serious!
Let me make myself perfectly clear. NetWare is not going to come back and sweep Windows 2000 and Linux off servers and re-establish itself as the network server supreme. But I do think that NetWare 6 has the stuff to keep existing NetWare shops from considering alternatives--and even win some erstwhile NetWare customers back.
After all, according to IDC, NetWare still had 17 percent of the server market in 2000, so even though NetWare is often viewed as a server operating system on the ropes, its earlier incarnations were still holding strong.
Let's take a look at the current server OS market. Unix and Linux are powerful, with rock solid stability and, in the case of Linux and the BSD operating systems, they're dirt cheap buy-ins. But for bread and butter file and print services, NetWare still delivers. And in this new version, without a need for a client and with easier network management, NetWare may actually have a cheaper total cost of ownership (TCO). Users and programmers can use Unix for more demanding projects, like Web serving and application development. But if your users simply perform standard office tasks, NetWare 6.0 has many new useful functions that are equal to those of Linux, Unix, and Windows.
For example, iFolder provides users transparent, cross-platform file transfer power. Combine this with the Native File Access Pack--and NetWare finally ridding itself of the need for a client--and you have a server that any PC on the network can use regardless of which version of Windows, MacOS or Linux it's running. If you have a browser, you can have NetWare file and print services.
And the print side, with its support for both Novell Distributed Print Services (NDPS) and Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) at the server and a Web browser plug-in on the client, is also much improved. With NetWare 6, your clients can find, install, and use printers anywhere without you--the network administrator--lifting a finger. Because printing problems eat up an ungodly amount of help desk time, that's a significant cost savings. Now, consider Microsoft's offerings. NetWare was always better than NT at bread-and-butter file and print serving. Though Windows 2000 Server is, based on my preliminary look at its performance, now the winner, NetWare's the champ in other areas.
For example, take directory services. Everyone wants them, but Active Directory (AD) is an infamous pain to work with. After more than a year of fussing and a couple of service patches, I can finally make AD work. Kind of. Sort of. My buddies who make a living at network administration are still having fits with it. It's easier to work with LDAP products on Unix and Linux, but there's just enough software incompatibility to drive administrators nuts. NetWare's Novell Directory Services and eDirectory 8.5are just flat out easier to set up and administer.
And as for stability, NetWare corners the market. Between reboots, I've run NT for weeks, Windows 2000, Linux, and Unix servers for months, and NetWare 3.1x/4.x for years. And NetWare's administration interface is vastly improved. Console One, which replaces NWAdmin, gives it solid Java Web-based interface. You'll still get bored walking through endless setup pages, but NetWare gives you server control that's almost as good as Unix's without its steep learning curve.
If all these features don't convince you to stick with NetWare and go for the upgrade, consider the costs. NetWare 6 is cheap. Though final pricing has yet to be announced, NetWare 6's pricing will be in line with NetWare 5.1 pricing ($995 for the basic server). One big change that will make it cheaper for some shops is that Novell will be moving from its long-time, server-based price model to a client-based model using the number of users in the directory tree.
But the sticker price is the smallest part of the TCO for a network OS. I would argue that NetWare is cheaper to run than Unix, Linux, or Windows 2000. I love Unix and Linux, but even after you add tools such as Caldera's Volution that make maintaining a network a managable task, you need to know Unix extremely well to administer it. I've also found Windows easy to administer in a half-baked way and much harder to maintain at an advanced level. Now that NetWare's client requirement is dead and buried, the OS is pretty much an install-and-forget server, which means significantly lower running costs.
Can NetWare beat Unix's overall flexibility and power? No. Can it beat Windows 2000's raw speed? No. Can it give administrators an easy to install server that gives all your users all the basics they need for an affordable price? Yes. If you're already using NetWare, stick with it. If you're not, start thinking about it.