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The 10 Most Important Products of the Decade
Number 2: Novell NetWare 3.x
October 2, 2000
By Ron Anderson
In fact, it wasn't until this month that Novell finally pulled the plug on NetWare 3.2's support, making our tribute to NetWare 3.x especially appropriate as the product begins to recede into the annals of networking history.
NetWare 3.x was the first NOS from Novell designed to run as a 32-bit program with Intel's new 386 processor. Extensions to the NOS ran as NetWare Loadable Modules (NLMs), which could be loaded and unloaded dynamically. The server was easy to install, simple to configure, stable, scalable and easy to maintain, especially when compared with NetWare 2.x.
NetWare 3.11 was so stable that the stories administrators continue to tell about uptime have become legend. One such tale involves a remodeling project that uncovered a NetWare 3.11 server walled up in an old wiring closet that everybody had forgotten about. The machine had been running for seven or eight years, happily serving up files and print jobs without missing a packet. Uptime numbers were enhanced by the administrator's ability to dynamically reconfigure the server without having to reboot it.
Speaking of packets, NetWare 3.x could handle many packets in many flavors. IPX/SPX was still its core protocol, but it supported AppleTalk and TCP/IP as well. And NetWare 3.x was an equal-opportunity server, compatible with Apple Computer Macintosh, IBM OS/2, Microsoft DOS/Windows and Unix machines via its multilingual protocols and its support of multiple file-name spaces.
A single server--even one with a small, slow processor and little memory, since NetWare 3.x was parsimonious with system resources--could service 250 users. NetWare 3.x also functioned in many organizations as a reliable multiprotocol router.
Third-party development of NLMs flourished along with the NetWare market. NLM development was limited mostly to drivers and system utilities--development was difficult, and the APIs were sometimes poorly documented--but Novell created a strong developer community supported by mailing lists and CompuServe forums. And NetWare was good for CompuServe; Novell-sponsored forums on CompuServe provided some of the best support available, and administrators considered it essential to maintain CompuServe accounts to tap into that knowledge. Novell also developed a certification program for administrators, engineers and instructors that remains a model for the rest of the industry.
NetWare 3.x may actually have been too successful for Novell's own good. In the mid-1990s, Novell brought out NetWare 4, which was enhanced with the addition of Novell Directory Services (NDS). A large organization with multiple servers was willing to upgrade to NetWare 4 because it could consolidate an individual's accounts in the directory, thus reducing administrative overhead.
However, the majority of Novell's installed base consisted of small-to-midsize enterprises with no more than a handful of NetWare 3.x servers. These smaller shops wouldn't realize the same benefits from a directory as their larger brethren would, so they opted to stick with what they had. Thus, Novell's user base stagnated during a time that competition from Microsoft was becoming intense, and by the end of the decade, Novell's grasp on the market had weakened.
In the early '90s, a persistent criticism leveled against Network Computing revolved around our frequent coverage of the NetWare market; readers in a vocal minority that championed other products took offense that we devoted so many pages to Novell's product.
Ironically, it's the NetWare supporters who today protest what they consider a lack of coverage. But looking back at the first half of the decade, NetWare 3.x owned the NOS market--and its tenure was remarkable. On that basis, its place on our list of the most important products of the past decade is more than well-deserved.