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The Gripe Line
Ed Foster

Hear the sucking sound? That Novell upgrade may cost more than expected

SOMETIMES A vendor has a reasonable explanation for everything it has done, but the customer still winds up with a nasty surprise.

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Reader complaints concerning Novell NetWare 5.1 and their old Btrieve applications may be one such case. Btrieve, on which many user applications are based, is a database that has long shipped for free as an integrated part of NetWare. So imagine how jolted network administrators are when installing NetWare 5.1 if they see a message announcing that the Pervasive.SQL 2000, as the latest version of Btrieve is now called, is included with a 90-day time bomb. Users of applications that now use Btrieve 6.10 or 6.15 have to pay an extra licensing fee to Pervasive on top of what they've already paid for the NetWare upgrade.

"This means that my clients who use Btrieve to power their applications must shell out at least $900 (the minimum 10-user license) to have the functionality they had before -- and this is after paying several thousand dollars for the upgrade!" one reader wrote. "If we had known about this in advance, we could have done something different, but now it's too late. Novell clearly could have licensed this technology but felt it was too expensive and wouldn't benefit enough people. It sure is a bummer for those people who they left in the lurch."

One problem with this situation is that it may not be clear to network administrators who see the 90-day time bomb warning whether it applies to them. One reader panicked when he first saw the message, thinking it was going to cost his company thousands of dollars it had not budgeted.

"After some frantic phone calls, I finally determined we didn't need it [Pervasive.SQL 2000] because we aren't running any Btrieve applications," he wrote. "But I hate to think what would have happened if we were ... Novell should have warned us about this before we decided to go with the upgrade."

Officials at Novell and Pervasive have good arguments as to why they stopped offering an unlimited free version of the database. (Along with the unlimited time bomb version, a permanent two-user version of Pervasive.SQL 2000 is bundled for free with NetWare 5.1, as NetWare itself requires it.) Btrieve 6.x was old technology that hasn't been supported by Novell or Pervasive for years, and the new version was required for a number of features such as full IP support, 32-bit capabilities, and integration with NDS.

The Pervasive software still provides backward compatibility with Btrieve applications, and Btrieve 6.10 is still found on the NetWare 5.1 CD. Novell warned, however, that the old version is untested with 5.1, and users who try to run the combination are on their own if it causes trouble.

Given how old the Btrieve technology is, one certainly can't blame Novell for feeling it had to integrate a more modern database with its product. Although Btrieve was once Novell's proprietary product, Pervasive now sells its product line to a variety of customers, so it's not going to give it to Novell for free. And because not all NetWare customers have Btrieve applications, it makes sense that only those who do should pay the additional cost of Pervasive licenses beyond the two-user version integrated in the product.

Do our gripers have a legitimate beef here? I think so, at least with Novell. Although Novell has every right to do what it did, it also has a responsibility to make reasonable efforts to inform customers of this kind of change before they buy products. As a Novell representative acknowledges, the company should have done a better job. The first chance most customers have to learn of it is in the read-me file on the CD. There's no mention of it anywhere on Novell's Web site -- in fact, even a press release announcing that Pervasive.SQL 2000 would be integrated in NetWare 5.1 fails to mention the new licensing charges.

On the other hand, Pervasive's Web site does give considerable detail on the subject, so I would encourage potential buyers who are not clear if this could affect them to start there. Those who are most likely to find a problem are users with NetWare installations running older accounting packages, many of which use Btrieve as the underlying database. In such cases, if the network administrator does not run Pervasive's User Count Administrator, which installs the 90-day version of the program, only two users can access the Btrieve application without encountering an error message, according to a Pervasive representative.

But it's not Pervasive or I who should be telling you this. It's easy to understand why Novell, when introducing NetWare 5.1, wasn't anxious to shout from the rooftops that some customers would have to pay for something they used to get for free. But better communication up front would have saved many people an unpleasant surprise on the back end.


Got a complaint on how a vendor is treating you? Write to Ed Foster , InfoWorld's reader advocate, at gripe@infoworld.com.




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Network/System Management
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