Is the new release of NetWare 6 a worthy upgrade for you, whether you're running a previous version or another Network Operating System? The Utah-based company has long labored to play catch up in the marketplace, even after their critical comeback over the last two years. Might this turn the tide? Part 1 of a 2-part article.
Reviewing a new version of an operating system is a little like watching the remake of your favorite movie. Basically you know what to expect, but you are looking for the "ooh" and "aah" factor of new additions that you haven't seen before. Well, with the newest offering from Novell, Inc. there's plenty to 'ooh' over but how many "aah's" will depend on what you need from a network OS.
The first thing that seems apparent from NetWare 6 is that Novell has tried to look at how to make some of the core services better, by adding new ways of doing existing tasks rather than adding new facets to the product. In a way, this comes as no surprise. The basic requirements from a network OS haven't changed since the beginnings of network computing, and Novell has, for many years, been past the point of basic file and print. Over time, building on the foundations of a solid NOS platform, they have added various services (DHCP/DNS/Web Server) to the point where there is little else that they need to offer. What to do? Time to make the existing services better, or at least more accessible.
The overall emphasis for NetWare 6 is definitely on Novell's vision of anywhere, anyway access. Browser-based tools abound and the focus of new additions is definitely headed toward the realm of the mobile, yet connected, user who might have more than one computing device at their disposal. In particular the new iFolder and iPrint features pitch directly at this market, but more about that later.
For those considering a move up to NetWare 6, software may not be the only thing that needs to be included in the upgrade budget. The minimum system requirements are specified as Pentium II with 256MB RAM but our tests proved, as expected, that this was only enough to get the system to beep a few times rather than do anything usable. Slapping in an extra 256MB RAM did the trick, though, and even the server based administration tool, ConsoleOne, started to become usable. On a side note, I have never been a fan of console-based administration, and Novell seem to share my feelings by continually making the server based version of ConsoleOne slow enough to make me not want to use it.
In the optimal configuration of dual processor system with 512MB RAM, the system moved along very swiftly, leaving no doubt that NetWare 6 has retained the speed that has made its predecessors a popular choice. Installation is much the same as in previous versions with a 'blue screen' phase followed by a graphical configuration section. After adding the license,
the system restarts and loads NetWare. On boot-up there are a few changes that catch the eye. For a second I though I had left a Linux CD in the CD-ROM as Novell have adopted a very Linux-esque format for the initialization of modules. The new splash screen shows itself soon enough though, and after that it's business as usual.
New Features: The 'I's Have It
As I mentioned at the beginning, the major focus of the new release is on the anywhere, anyhow access. The new features that provide this functionality are from both the users perspective and administration. Two of the most vaunted user features of NetWare 6 are the iFolder and iPrint. iFolder is a "revolutionary data synchronization technology" that allows files to be synchronized between devices. That means that files on multiple devices can be synchronized with files on the server through the iFolder. All that is needed for this functionality is an NLM, a very small client component, a data repository location on the server, and a connection to said server.
For mobile users or those that use multiple devices, iFolder offers a great way to keep work synchronized. In use, it certainly seems to be slick and easy to use. In fact, after a while you almost forget that there is any synchronization taking place and start taking it for granted; it's operation is literally that transparent. Another twist for iFolder over other synchronization systems is that only changes to files are synchronized, which saves bandwidth. For all it's good points, though, for non-mobile users, the benefits of iFolder are hard to see. Ask yourself how many people you know who Microsoft's Briefcase and you'll see what I mean.
While iFolder helps jazz up the file serving function, iPrint brings some interesting new angles on network printing. Not only can users use a web browser to access printer functionality, via the Internet Printing Protocol, it is even possible to use graphical maps of the office layout (or a geographical map) to allow the user to find the most convenient printer. When the target printer is selected, the background driver download is completely automatic. Again, though, the advantages of iPrint may be lost on many organizations. While the graphical element is a useful addition, most users tend to only use one or two printers and do not hop to other printers unless there is a failure. For these users graphical printer selection is a novelty that is likely to wear off.
Another 'i' feature is iManage, a web based management utility that allows you to perform a variety of tasks through a browser interface. The overall gist of the utility is the configuration of DHCP/DNS and iPrint services although you can add and delete users and groups through here as well. Working with iManage is both fast and functional, and a great deal of thought appears to have gone into the construction of the various pages. Of most note is the lack of clutter which makes the purpose of each page area very clear. Outside of iManage, you still have the Web Manager for working with eDirectory, which is a more likely route, as there is more functionality available.
In the conclusion of this review, we will look deeper into the feature set and issue some caveats.
Drew Bird (MCT, MCNI) is a freelance instructor and technical writer. He has been working in the IT industry for over 12 years and currently lives in Kelowna, BC., Canada.