Pervasive Computing-Novell's End-of-Decade Dream

Executives describe a world of one billion network users

Pervasive computing is being touted as a concept for the future by Novell Inc. as it strives to remain the king of network software in a world of a billion computer users.

Novell's strategy was presented by Robert Frankenberg, the Provo, UT, company's new president, CEO, and chairman, during the NetWorld+InterOp show in Atlanta, and reiterated last week before the Software Entrepreneurs' Forum in Palo Alto, CA, by Joe Firmage, vice president of engineering in Novell's AppWare Systems Group.

"We are going to connect people to other people and to the information they need, and allow them to use it any time they want," said Firmage, describing Novell's vision of the future. "The changes of the next five to seven years will be far greater than those of the last 10," he said. He predicted the figure of one billion users-one in five persons on earth-would probably come true by the end of this decade. But the users he has in mind will be users of networked fax machines, copiers, personal digital assistants, cash registers, and even TV set-top boxes-not just personal computers.

Frankenberg said Novell will be focusing on its core networking infrastructure business, led by NetWare, its network operating system, and UNIX. And, in a major move toward standardizing networking protocol, Frankenberg said Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) will be included as a core protocol in NetWare servers in 1995. Until now, NetWare has employed only its proprietary SPX/IPX protocol.

In addition, the Novell executives said UNIXWare, the desktop product that until now has been considered an operating system, will be positioned as an application server environment. Novell will de-emphasize forays into desktop operating system products. And the company plans to work in five general IT areas: shared devices, shared information, corporate data processing, personal and corporate communications, and public networks.

Even through networking is widespread today, networks are still too difficult to use, Firmage said, and the infrastructure is not complete. Novell's goal is to make network access available nearly everywhere, from many kinds of devices, and to give almost anyone access to them through use of a plastic card. The card would contain a microchip with authentication to network services. Users would activate the card by swiping it through a card reader and entering a universally-accepted personal password.

"What we will do five years from now is provide on-line connection to everything outside your PC," Firmage said, from places like airplanes and hotels as well as at home and in the office. In effect, what Novell is talking about is the concept sometimes known as ubiquitous computing. "You'll have one password to access any information you wish," Firmage continued. "The Novell directory service is crucial to accomplishing this." As well as being available everywhere, the networks will have to be robust. "We will know we have arrived at success when the network is as accessible as electricity-when you notice the absence of a network as you notice the absence of a wall socket now."