Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because by understanding the past, we’re able to be prepared for the innovations of the future! Todays episode is on the history of Novell. To understand Novell, we’ll go to BYU in 1980. As an honors grad in math and computer science, Drew Major might have been listening to the new wave tunes of Blondie or Deve who released Call Me and Whip it respectively that year. But it’s more likely he was playing with the Rubik’s Cube or Pac-Man, released that year or tuned in to find out Who Shot JR? On Dallas. He probably joined the rest of the world in mourning the loss of John Lennon who was murdered in 1980. He went to work at Eyring Research Institute (ERI) where he, Dale Neibaur and Kyle Powell decided to take some of their work from BYU and started working on the IPX and SPX network protocols and the NetWare operating system using the company name SuperSet Software. Meanwhile, George Canova, Darin Field, and Jack Davis had started a company called Novell a couple of years before, building microcomputers, or the equivalent of the PCs we use today. They weren’t doing so well and Novell Data Systems decided they might be able to sell more computers by hooking them up together - so they hired the SuperSet team to help. The team Superset had worked on ARPANET projects while at the Eyring Research Institute The bankers stepped in and Jack Davis left, then Canova - and Raymond Noorda stepped in as CEO in 1982. In 1983 they released Novell NetWare. NetWare had the first real Network Operating System called ShareNet, which was based on a license to a Unix kernel they bought. While initially based on the Xerox Network System developed at Xerox PARC, they created Internetwork Packet Exchange, or IPX, and Sequenced Packet Exchange, or SPX, creating standards that would become common in most businesses in the subsequent decades. They joined Novell in 1983 and Major later became Chief Scientist. The 1980s were good to Novell. They released Netware 2 in 1986, becoming independent of the hardware and more modular. Servers could be connected through ARCNET, Ethernet, and Token Ring. They added fault tolerance options to remap bad blocks, added RAID support, and used a key card inserted in the ISA bus to license the software. And they immediately started working on Netware 3, which wouldn’t be complete until 1990, with 3.11 setting the standard in network file sharing and when I first worked with Netware. Netware 3 was easier to install. It was 32-bit, allowed volumes up to a terabyte, and I remember this being cool at the time, you could add volume segments on the fly while the volume was mounted. Although growing the volume was always… in need of checking backups first. They didn’t worry a lot about the GUI. Dealers didn’t mind that. HP, DEC, and Data General all licensed OEM versions of the software. This was also my first experience with clustering, as NetWare SFT-III allowed a mirror an a different machine. All of this led to patents and the founding of new concepts that would, whether intentionally or accidentally, be copied by other vendors over the coming years. They grew, they sold hardware, like otherwise expensive ethernet cards, at cost to grab market share, and they had a lot of dealers who were loyal, in part due to great margins they had been earning but also because Netware wasn’t simple to run and so required support contracts with those dealers. By 1990, most businesses used Novell if they needed to network computers. And NetWare 3.x seemed to cement that. They worked with larger and larger customers, becoming the Enterprise standard. Once upon a time, no one ever got fired for buying Netware. But Microsoft had been growing into the powerhouse standard of the day. They opened discussions to merge with Novell but Ray Noorda, then CEO, soon discovered that Bill Gates was working behind his back, a common theme of the era. This is when Novell got aggressive, likely realizing Microsoft was about to eat their lunch. Novell then bought Digital Research in 1991, with a version of DOS called DR DOS, and working with Apple on a project to bring Novell to Mac OS. They bought Univel to get their own Unix for UnixWare, and wrote Novell Directory Services which would later become eDirectory to establish a directory services play. They bought WordPerfect and Quattro Pro, early Office-type tools. By the end of this brisk acquisition time, the company didn’t look like they did just a few years earlier. Microsoft had released Windows NT 3.1 Advanced Server in 1993 as the hate-spat between Noorda and Gates intensified. Noorda supported the first FTC antitrust investigations against Microsoft. It didn’t work. Noorda was replaced by Robert Frankenberg in 1994. And then Windows 95 was released. Novell ended up selling Novell DOS to Caldera, handing over part of the Unix assets to Santa Cruz Operation, selling Integrated Systems, scrapping the Embedded Systems technology they’d been working on, and even selling WordPerfect and Quattro Pro too Corel. Windows of course supported Netware servers in addition to their own offering, having moved to NT 4 in 1996. NT 4 server would become the de facto standard in businesses. Frankenberg didn’t last long and Eric Schmidt was hired as CEO in 1997. NetWare 5 was released in 1998 and I can still remember building zap packages to remove IPX/SPX in favor of TCP/IP. But the company was alienating the channel by squeezing margin out of them while simultaneously losing the war in the small business then the larger businesses to Microsoft, who kept making Windows Server better, and by 1999 I was trading my CNA (or Certified Novell Administrator) out for my first MCSE. After seeing the turnaround at IBM, Novell bought a consulting firm called Cambridge Technology Partners in 2001, replacing Schmidt with their CEO, Jack Messmen - and moving their corporate headquarters to Massachusetts. Drew Major finally left that year. The advancements he’s overseen at Novell are legendary and resulted in technology research and patents that rival any other team in the industry. But the suits had a new idea. They pivoted to Linux, buying Ximian and SuSE in 2003, releasing Suse Linux Enterprise Server and then Novell Linux Desktop in 2004 and finally Open Enterprise Server in 2005. Does all of this seem like a rudderless ship? Yes, they wanted to pivot to Linux and compete with Microsoft, but they’d been through this before. Stop slapping yourself… Microsoft finally settled the competition by buying them off. They gave Novell $348 Million dollars in 2006 for “patent cooperation” and then spent $6M more on Novell products than Novell spent on theirs over the next 5 years (keep in mind that technology spats are multi-front wars). Novell was acquired by Attachmate for $2.2 billion dollars. Because Novell engineers had been creating so much amazing technology all those years, 882 patents from Novell went to CPTN Holdings, a consortium of companies that included Apple, EMC, Microsoft, and Oracle - this consortium the likely architect of the whole deal. SUSE was spun off, Attachmate laid off a lot of the workforce, Attachmate was bought, much word salad was said. You can’t go back in time and do things over. But if he could, I bet Noorda would go back in time and do the deal with Bill Gates instead of going to war. Think about that next time someone goes low. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. You’re above that. This has been The History of Novell. Thank you for listening we hope you have a great day!
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