OS UPDATE - Part 4


by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, November 1998


This is the fourth installment of my series of articles on operating system updates, with NetWare 5 being the subject at hand. It’s a bit of a good news/bad news story, with the emphasis on the good news. (The bad news isn’t all that bad, I’m just a nitpicker as far as NetWare is involved. Remember, "You always hurt the one you love.")

The newly-released version of Novell’s network operating system product is called NetWare 5. It is the immediate descendent of IntraNetWare 4.11. The first part of the story of this product is in the name. In what’s been called in advertising circles the worst marketing disaster since New Coke, Novell, during the introduction of Version 4 of their main product, renamed it "IntraNetWare", a step that single-handedly blew off a rather large percentage of its customer base, losing untold numbers of potential repeat customers. I’ve seen independent studies indicating that many people believed that "IntraNetWare" was meant only for companies having a leased line to the Internet and possibly even an in-house Web server, too. Oops! ("Marketing ability? Marketing ability! We don’t have to show you no stinking marketing ability!" - Novell’s original company motto.) Finally, Novell has seen the light. They went back to good old "NetWare" for Version 5. (New company motto - "Okay, we’ll show you SOME marketing skills, but don’t push it!")
The next bit of news about NetWare 5 is the best. It actually works! (Quite a good trick since it was released ahead of schedule!) While there are obviously some bugs in any new product, first reports indicate that NetWare 5 is stable and reliable. Whew! That’s a relief. I will admit that I was worried about having another mess like the initial release NetWare 4.0. In this case, however, Novell had an advantage in that NetWare 5, in spite of all the new features, is still conceptually a derivative of IntraNetWare 4.11, whereas when comparing NetWare 4.0 to its immediate predecessor, NetWare 3.11, it was more like, as the Monty Python gang put it, "And now for something completely different!"
Also, Novell, unlike a certain multibillion dollar operating system publisher, which shall remain nameless, is actively responding to bug reports and suggestions by publishing patches, fixes, and various hint files. At the Novell seminars that I have attended, technical questions were usually met with a response that included a verbal summary along with a reference to an already-published document or patch file that provided a solution or work-around. The answers to questions, posed during the seminars, that didn’t have previously published answers have been showing up on the Web within a week or two after the seminars.
The new feature that has gained Novell the most publicity is protocol independence. NetWare is no longer tied to the old IPX/SPX system of communications, though it still can use it to support older workstations and other network devices. The default communications protocol is true, standards-following TCP/IP (as opposed to another operating system vendor, based in Washington State, whose server and workstation operating systems violate multiple standards when using TCP/IP).
Old NetWare could use TCP/IP only by encapsulating IPX/SPX packets inside of TCP/IP packets - effective, but grossly inefficient and somewhat limiting in terms of compatibility. It was like being forced to take your mail, already stuffed into a normal business envelope, addressed in English, and being forced to, to stuff that envelope into another, larger one, addressed in another language, in order to get the mail delivered. At the other end, the recipient would have to open both envelopes to get to your message. What a pain! Now you just fire up NetWare with real TCP/IP.
The irony is that NetWare 5's implementation of TCP/IP even includes nonstandard work-around routines that are required to deal with communicating with other operating systems’ standards violations (see above)! While the Novell personnel at these seminars did their best to follow Novell’s new corporate policy of not being at war with any competitors, but instead trying to be cooperative and avoid criticism (what they used to call "coopetition"), the attendees, despite being scolded by the Novell folks, were not so restricted. Those who had worked extensively with the competition’s offerings were quick to point these and other deficiencies, often quite sarcastically. I expected this reaction from the long time NetWare resellers in attendance, but I was somewhat surprised to hear this from the corporate administrators in the crowd. I had thought that they had all fallen under the competition’s propaganda avalanche. Oh well, I guess free thought still survives!
In the spirit of free thought, the audience, as a whole, was equally vocal (actually MORE vocal) in expressing their displeasure whenever some installation and/or configuration routine was either not documented well enough, or, was inadequately automated. (I’d like to think that NetWare users and even resellers are not either some sort of passive zombies, dedicated to idolizing some demigod from Utah, or, alternately, Luddites, sticking with what they know out of blind fear of trying something new.)
For example, the handouts and overhead at one seminar showed a page with six steps required to do an across-the-wire upgrade from NetWare 4.1x to NetWare 5. Note that across-the-wire means that you have acquired a new server to replace the old one at the same time as you are upgrading NetWare. The information from the old server must go literally across the network wire to its replacement. After counting something like twenty-eight distinct (admittedly easy) steps needed for the speaker to do the upgrade, many attendees noticed that he was reading his own detailed list of steps! After a mass protest erupted over the inadequacy of the handout, he offered to put all of his "insider" information on floppy disks that would be sent to all of us. After further - and much louder - protest, he agreed that the proper place for such information was Novell’s Web site, where anybody, not just those at this seminar, could get at it. He also agreed to pass on our suggestions on how to further automate the procedure. While most of these steps are in the manual, it’s a lot easier to use a summarized list, especially if that list includes the latest insider tips.
There’s more NetWare 5 coverage coming next month. Meanwhile, I am scheduled to burn a goat on my red altar and I have to find my prayer rug. Now, which way is facing Orem (Utah)?

�1998, Wayne M. Krakau