Novell Novell NetWare

The King Returns from the Dead





Novell, having totally blown its near monopoly in PC networking, is on the comeback trail with new management and new ideas. Most of Windows NT's early gains were at the expense of NetWare, but Novell's resurgence and Microsoft's inability to get out Windows 2000 out on time may have derailed that trend .

History - How all was Won and Nearly Lost

Novell began in 1983 intending to enable CP/M PCs to share an expensive hard disk.They soon realized disk costs were plunging, and files on the disk where needed to be shared. Not having the skills or time to write a network operating, Novell bought a license to a Unix kernel and based NetWare on that foundation.

Novell's decision to support as many different makes of hardware as possible made NetWare unique. All other network developers were supporting only their own brand and type of hardware. Novell helped reduce the cost of networking so it could become popular by bundling inexpensive Ethernet cards with their software.

By 1990, Novell had a near monopoly and a huge base of fanatically loyal dealers. One key to dealer faithfulness, and eventually a key to their downfall in the small business market, was the impenetrable obscurity of how to administer a NetWare system. Practically no small business user could do this, so it meant a lot of continuing support business for the dealers.

Moving into a near vacuum, Novell continued to move upscale, eventually nearly its small business and departmental base to concentrate on enterprise. NetWare became so large and filled with enterprise scale features it became problematical for small business, leaving an opening for Artisoft's LANtastic, and eventually Microsoft Networking.

By the mid '90s, Novell's market had become a major Microsoft target. After several attempts to cut in failed, Microsoft entered merger talks with Novell's chief, Ray Noorda. Noorda discovered Bill Gates was maneuvering behind his back even as they spoke, and became infuriated. He returned to Utah determined to build an anti-Microsoft empire. To that end he purchased Unix, Digital Research, WordPerfect and other companies and products.

Sadly, Novell's monopoly softened management was barely competent to tie their own shoelaces, and all the products Noorda bought were soon destroyed or nearly destroyed. Ray Noorda retired. Unix was sold off to SCO for a dime to the dollar, the tatters of Digital Research went to Caldera for a song (a song sung by Caldara's Ray Noorda, as it were), and the now nearly worthless WordPerfect went to Corel in Canada.

Microsoft's Windows NT assault against NetWare finally started to succeed in a big way, and Novell was seen as having no defense, no marketing, and no plan. Noorda's replacement, Frankenberg, made concessions to Microsoft in hopes of buying peace, and got the same shaft anyone else who "partners" with Microsoft gets. Major programs were abandoned with a dispatch formerly seen only at Apple, leaving business partners high, dry and resentful.

The Board of Directors fired Frankenberg, and hired Eric Schmidt from Sun Microsystems to replace him. This move was widely reported as "too little too late", but it looks like that may not be true after all. Under Schmidt, Novell's dead wood was cleared out without mercy, and projects were put back on track, culminating with the successful Novell Directory Services and the release of NetWare 5.0.

NetWare 5.0 has been getting a lot of press and very favorable reviews. The constant comparison of the highly successful NetWare 5.0 with the vaporous and bug riddled Windows NT 5.0 was probably a major reason Microsoft renamed it to Windows 2000. The 2.0 version of NDS for Windows NT is nearing release and stands to pre-empt Microsoft Active Directory in many organizations.

Eric Schmidt has committed Novell to a Java future, joining Sun Microsystems, IBM and Oracle in an unholy alliance to turn Bill Gates' "Road Ahead" into something a little different. (Index)


Novell's current products include IntraNetWare 4.12, NetWare 5.1, NetWare for Small Business 4.2 and GroupWise, which competes with Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes. NetWare 3.2 has just been discontinued (Mar 2000). 4.0 was the first version to incorporate Novell Directory Services and an enterprise outlook. 5.1 includes native TCP/IP, application server features, Internet features and many other expansions from NetWare's file and print server foundation.

The new NetWare for Small Business is an attempt to move back into the small business market, competing with Microsoft's Back Office for Small Business. This is a pretty rough row to hoe at this point, after so many years of neglect, but the just released version 4.2 may have enough features to be a contender. This is not a "mom ~pop" product - the workstation count has been raised to 50 because 25 was really too few for a product of this scale. They now have to get dealers behind the product, but dealers are finding Back Office a much easier sell today because of Microsoft's mighty marketing machine.

GroupWise should be stronger than it is, and only Novell's poor marketing is responsible for its relatively poor showing. It is easier to deploy and easier to administer than either Exchange or Notes, and provides similar functionality.

All versions of NetWare are highly stable and excellent performers. Only OS/2 WarpServer has ever outperformed them for file and print. While many NetWare installations have been converted to Windows NT "because Novell is dead", administrators report it takes about three times as many servers and three times the staff to provide the same level of service they had with NetWare. With Novell now "undead" these conversions will probably slow drastically. (Index)

Directory Services

The strongest point of NetWare for the corporate market is NDS (Novell Directory Services). NDS allows a company to administer a worldwide network from a single directory tree and move users and resources about on that tree freely. Novell has made this service available for Windows NT servers (NDS for Windows NT), and Caldera is making it available for Linux.

The Directory Services market should belong to Banyan, whose Vines network has included the Street Talk directory services for many years, and many large organizations depended on it. Unfortunately, Banyan's certifiably brain dead management concentrated on preventing as many people as possible from selling their product. They are now so insignificant I doubt the magazines will bother to announce their demise (if that hasn't occurred yet).

Enterprise management is impossible with Microsoft's domain based Windows NT networking. Microsoft Active Directory, part of the ever later Windows 2000, was supposed to fix this, but it now appears MAD may be a failure (Microsoft is already trying to sell its shortcomings as "features" and it isn't even out yet).

This may put Novell back in a strong market position for at least one major aspect of networking. Hopefully, they won't screw up so bad this time. (Index)

©:Andrew Grygus - Automation Access - - -
Velocity Networks: Network Consulting Service - Internet Service Provider - Web Page Design and Hosting
All trademarks and trade names are recognized as property of their owners