Novell Inc. this week made good on its promise to provide users with broader platform choices when running its network systems software by announcing plans to ship a product for Linux. It also announced comprehensive technical support and consulting services for Linux and said that systems vendors such as Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. would offer its Linux products to customers.

Novell Nterprise Linux Services, which the company says will be available later this year, gives users integrated file, print, messaging, directory and management services that run on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server. At its annual BrainShare user conference in April, Novell said it planned to port the features and services of its NetWare operating system for use on Linux.

"Providing network services on Linux is a natural extension of our… cross-platform strategy and brings the value of secure, scalable and reliable Novell networking to the rapidly growing Linux server market," Novell chairman and CEO Jack Messman said in a statement. "The support of the major hardware players ensures customers will be able to obtain and run these… Novell network services on the operating system and hardware platform of their choice."

The initial version of Novell Nterprise Linux Services will be made up of integrated Novell network services, including identity services via Novell eDirectory and DirXML, file services via Novell iFolder, printing services via iPrint, messaging services via NetMail, management services via ZENworks for Servers and a Virtual Office via Extend Director.

Nterprise Linux Services provides a path for Linux users until complete Linux support is integrated into NetWare with the release of NetWare 7, the company says. The complete Novell services set will run on both the NetWare and Linux kernels with the NetWare 7 release. NetWare 6.5 is scheduled to be released this summer, and version 7 is expected within the next 18 months.

Novell's Linux support comes as the company is embroiled in a dispute with SCO over who owns certain Unix patents. SCO has used its ownership of System V Unix code as the basis for allegations that proprietary Unix code has been illegally copied into Linux.

At the same time, Linux has been gaining a stronger hold in corporate data centers, although some business users have struggled with finding the expertise needed to support Linux deployments. Novell is hoping its decision to support Linux will help drive customer adoption.

Meantime, Novell has begun layoffs to help bring its costs in line with revenues, a Novell spokesman says, although he wouldn't be specific about how deep the cuts are expected to be.

"As part of our earnings announcement last quarter we announced that we would be reducing costs, and in the software industry that's generally done through headcount," he says. "There have been layoffs taking place globally."

Beta testing for Novell Nterprise Linux Services is set to begin in July, the company says.