Enterprise Unix Roundup: NetWare is Dead, Long Live NetWare

by Michael Hall

Michael Hall discusses where NetWare fits in Novell's post-Ximian acquisition road map, SCO's latest antics, and Sun's use of Blaster woes to woo the Microsoft faithful to Mad Hatter. He also answers the question 'When is a wildcard not a wildcard?'

Last week we mentioned a bit of Linux-related news from Novell, namely its acquisition of Linux desktop company Ximian. The point of the acquisition was plain enough: Novell's porting GroupWise to Linux, and the need for a decent client is apparent. Ximian's "Evolution" product fits the bill for a mail and calendar application. Simple.

What we left out of our recap of LinuxWorld news was the more interesting long-term picture for Novell, which involves the end of NetWare as a competitive platform, and Novell's exit strategy from the OS market, which is all about Linux.

For a while, as its own fortunes dwindled, Novell eyed Linux with a deserved amount of distrust. NetWare has taken its share of knocks from people who don't remember how it found its way into so many shops in the first place: on the strength of its stability and general usefulness. We saw more than one organization, though, that found NetWare hit the spot as recently as a few years ago.The trend, though, has been against NetWare. According to IDC, NetWare slipped from a market share of 19 percent to 11 percent in a mere two years thanks, in no small part, to Windows' maturation in terms of user and resource provisioning and Linux's tempting.

Now, it seems, Novell's figured a way out of its flagship's decline: dropping its focus on development of an operating system proper and repackaging print, directory, and file services as Linux components. From where we stand, that looks like a win-win situation. The general consensus is that NetWare's standing was never formed due to admiration for the internals of the operating system, but rather was derived from how simple it is to configure it to provide services over a network to large numbers of users.

Old Unix hands and Linux advocates will argue that the same simplicity is present in assorted tools already found in most Linux distributions, but we see the existence of NetWare-style services on the Linux platform as a whole new world of opportunity for both Novell and Linux. For enterprise users who've stuck to NetWare through the years, the combination of Linux's stability and Novell's experience at making services easy to provide might look like peanut butter and jelly.

We should point out that Novell isn't precisely dropping its operating system, either. NetWare as a stand-alone operating system will go into maintenance mode for the foreseeable future, and "NetWare 7" will be an operating system as well as a set of services available for Linux. Simple.

In Other News:

  • SCO Watch: It's been a quiet enough week on the SCO front. All the company did this week was announce suspension of IBM subsidiary Sequent's Dynix/ptx, a relatively obscure Unix licensee. It also sold the first of its special Linux licenses to a Fortune 500 company. The company was left unnamed, and the "slight discount" SCO says it granted its new customer was unspecified.
  • The misfortune of Windows users afflicted with Blaster seems to smell like opportunity to Sun, which announced early registration for Mad Hatter (the subject of some speculation on our part last week). Calling reliance on a single vendor (that'd be Microsoft) "an achilles heel in the safety and security of the world's network infrastructure," Sun said it's Linux-based alternative will offer a full suite of applications needed to migrate from Windows desktops in the enterprise. Since the offering doesn't seem to be actually available, we'll chalk it up to high hopes that someone, somewhere, is mad enough to sign a purchase order before there are any purchases to order. We also noticed that Sun doesn't actually use the "L" word in its press release despite Mad Hatter's Linux foundations: We're not sure what the reticence is all about, but it tells us the company's still trying to figure out how to embrace Linux without looking like it's holding too hard.
  • A few weeks ago, we mentioned growing support for Rendezvous, Apple's take on Zeroconf. Now there's open source, royalty free Howl, which provides a cross-platform implementation of Zeroconf meant to allow Windows, Linux, and FreeBSD systems to interoperate with OS X systems publishing Rendezous services. At this point, there's not much there except an SDK and a few samples to demonstrate how to embed Zeroconf support in an application, but it's a start.

Tips of the Trade

When is a Wildcard Not a Wildcard?

Answer: when it's a regular expression.

Unix vets refer to them as "regexps," but Unix newbies don't usually know to call them anything, at first. They're confusing because in many examples for commands, like grep, it looks as if wildcards are being used.

Wildcards are a common concept both in Unix shells and in other operating systems like MS DOS. They do things like allow commands such as rm *.doc instead of rm a.doc b.doc c.doc d.doc to execute. Wildcards are great; most users would even argue they are essential. (Those of us, at least, who haven't crawled into a GUI to wile away our productive time.)

Regexps, though, are slightly different, and they're much more sophisticated. They turn up in commands like grep, which is used to perform sophisticated searches for specific patterns of text, or sed, which is used to perform changes to a file.

Here's an example of the differences:

Suppose you want to search a Web server's log file for every host that starts with "www" and ends with ".org." Many Unix novices might know that they want to use the cat command to list the contents of the file, and they might even know that they'd pipe the output to grep to search for the hostname, but they get hung up when they try to use wildcards for their search:

cat /var/log/apache/access.log | grep www*org

That won't return anything at all, let alone the correct results, because grep uses regexps, and in regexp syntax "*" doesn't mean "any group of characters" as it does in most wildcards. It means "match the preceding character in the expression one or more times." Knowing that, you'd try the same command with just a small tweak to get better results:

cat /var/log/apache/access.log | grep www.*org

In the case of regexps, the "." means "any character," and the "*" means "one or more times." So where the wildcard "*" character means "any number of characters," the regexp ".*" means the same thing.

It's a tricky concept, and not one we've got a lot of space to work with. If you're looking to learn more, we heartily recommend the O'Reilly title "Mastering Regular Expressions" as a way to get the hang of them. The Web is also full of tutorials to explain the basics. When we return next week, we'll go more in depth with regexps, and show how to work out some of the kinks you probably found trying out our example. Give us a month, and we'll have you wondering why you ever thought wildcard's were all you'd ever need.

This article was originally published on Friday Aug 15th 2003
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