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In Memoriam

Ray Noorda, ex-CEO of Novell and networking visionary, passed away yesterday (http://money.cnn.com/2006/10/09/news/newsmakers/noorda.reut/index.htm?postversion=2006100919, and others). We hardly think of Novell as a networking company today, what with its merger with Cambridge Technology Partners and its acquisition of SuSE Linux over the past several years (Novell also owned AT&T System V Unix for a brief period). But there was a period of time in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Novell NetWare was synonymous with PC networking.

What happened? As is the case with many companies with innovative ideas, Microsoft eventually set its sights on the networking market. Because Microsoft owned the operating system, it was able to better integrate networking into the platform and eventually offer a less expensive and easier solution.

But Novell made his own mistakes. NetWare enabled PC networking, but did not make it easy. It required a dedicated PC server and significant skills (and perhaps also a measure of luck) to get NetWare installed and operating properly. And Novell did not expend a lot of effort in making it easier. Quite the contrary, in fact, because keeping it difficult enabled the company to develop an army of technical specialists who also evangelized the product.

Certified NetWare Engineer (CNE) training was the surest ticket to job security and financial success in the PC industry for several years. These skills were almost mandatory in installing and maintaining the software. While Novell was training over 50,000 CNEs, Microsoft was busy making networking simple enough in Windows 95 so that little or no training was required. Ultimately this was the right side of history.

Novell also used its own proprietary networking protocol (IPX/SPX), rather than invest in TCP/IP, the protocol of the Internet that eventually became the industry standard. While the company eventually offered TCP/IP in addition to its own protocol, NetWare's peak had already passed.

When Noorda retired from Novell, he founded Caldera Linux (for a while my preferred Linux distribution), which through a strange sequence of events eventually morphed into SCO (without involvement from Noorda), the company that has been attempting to assert legal flaws in Linux over the past several years (Novell, among others, is disputing those claims).

In retirement Noorda also founded the Canopy Group, a venture capital firm that invested in start-up companies based mostly in his home state ofUtah.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 10/10/2006


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