Red Hat will release the Netscape directory technology it acquired last November as open source next week, according to a report. The move gives Red Hat and other Linux distributors an open-source challenger to proprietary systems such as Microsoft's Active Directory, Sun Java Enterprise and particularly Novell's eDirectory.

Red Hat will release the software on 1 June, the day Red Hat launches its annual Summit in New Orleans, Red Hat executive vice president Joanne Rohde said at a panel in New York City on Tuesday. Rohde's comments were reported by industry journal Microsoft Watch. Red Hat has not yet officially confirmed the product launch.

Netscape Directory Services (NDS) will be renamed Red Hat Directory Server, and the code will be released under the GNU General Public License (GPL), according to Red Hat.

Directory services are essential for large businesses, allowing them to manage identity and security information for employees, customers and partners; they provide a single database for storing information about the network and network based resources such as users, servers, files, printers, shares and the like.

Until now Linux systems have had to rely on proprietary solutions, such as eDirectory. The release of Red Hat Directory Server as open source means Linux distributors will have a product they can provide to customers without extra licensing fees. The open source licence means developers are free to modify and redistribute the program's code, as long as they contribute their changes to the open source community.

Open-source directory services already exist in the form of OpenLDAP - already included in some Linux distributions, including that of Red Hat - but this has been criticised as difficult to set up and maintain.

eDirectory runs on numerous platforms while Active Directory is designed for Windows only. Both of these, like OpenLDAP and Red Hat Directory Services, implement the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), a standardised way of accessing directory services.

At the time of the NDS acquisition, Red Hat said the software would give it better access to the enterprise and government markets, and would eventually help it increase the price users pay for Red Hat Enterprise Linux.