Video games, recliners and neck rubs all have a place at the Novell Inc. BrainShare '98 conference at the Salt Palace.

But many of those who have traveled from afar to attend the weeklong event have managed to extract themselves from the glitz and distractions long enough to learn from seminars and product demonstrations of the Orem-based computer networking company.David Savage, a Boulder, Colo., service manager for IBM, is attending his sixth BrainShare. He said his goal is to talk with Novell representatives about their products and find solutions for his customers' problems.

And after the conference's first two days, Savage said he was surprised at the renewed enthusiasm he saw for Novell products.

"(Novell's) vision is sharper," he said Tuesday. "I expected attendance at BrainShare to decline. I'm really surprised at how many new people seem to be here."

Savage said he was encouraged by Novell's stated willingness to work more closely with its historical rivals, notably Microsoft Corp., and to focus on its strengths.

Jan Nesmith, a network administrator with Richland College in Dallas, said her organization is a heavy Novell user, and she is happy with the company's improved products.

"I think everybody's been very impressed and pleased with what they're seeing," she said. "Hands down they're better than Microsoft."

Jane West, a network manager for IBM in Southern California, said she was attending BrainShare primarily to check out the upgrades for Novell's NetWare 5 platform, which is due for release in the middle of this year.

"It looks good. We'll be upgrading, I'm sure," West said.

As for Novell itself, she said she always has liked the company.

"They've always been quite responsive to us," West said. "I never knew them to have problems, except in the press."