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Why VMWare Won't Follow In Novell's Footsteps

David Cappuccio ponders the fate of VMWare in Just a Thought; Will VMware become the next Novell?. He compares the state of Novell at their peak in the mid 90's. They owned what we called back the network operating space. There were a ton of apps for Netware, getting certified in Netware was almost an IT requirement, and Brainshare, Novells big conference,  Cuppuccio remembers, pulled in 10,000 attendees. Cappuccio's thought experiment puts VMWare today is in much the same position. But I think there are some key differences.

Novell was the power house to be sure. The state of Novell often comes up as a cautionary tale about what can go wrong when vendors take their eye off the ball. Novell was sailing along with Netware 3.x. It was entrenched, worked, and with exception of the occasional ABEND, ran smoothly and reliably. Netware 3.x did what IT needed it to do. Then Novell ships Netware 4 and what eventually became e-directory. Novell Directory Services (NDS) was a shift so radical in the product that they lost IT in the process.

NDS was powerful  directory with ACL's, containers, objects, and  inheritance. You could easily manage huge numbers of users, 1000's or 10's of thousands easily, but no one except the largest enterprises needed those functions and couldn't be bothered to spend the time getting upto speed nor could application developers get their development processes adapted to take up the new changes. Let's face it, NDS had some issues. Users often couldn't bind to the directory, the Novell client, Client 32, was a resource hog which would break inexplicably and wouldn't uninstall cleanly making a complete computer re-install a necessary recovery step for any Client 32 problem. Those didn't help either.

Novell made a leap so large that their loyal users wouldn't, or couldn't follow. Microsoft released Winodws NT 3.1 at the same time that offered an easier user model that IT could use and backward compatibility with for 16-bit applications that didn't leverage the security model in NT. A problem what was manifested from NT to Windows Server 2000 and Active Directory, which also led to the 15+ year long myth that applications need to run as Administrator which was a problem in itself, but I digress.

VMWare, as Cappuccio points out, also shares many  of the same characteristics as Novell--90% market share( I have heard 70% bandied about. Let's say they dominate), a huge and loyal user base, mind share (admit it, when someone says virtual computing what company springs to mind?), and Microsoft is again turning the corner with a free hypervisor, Hyper-V, and Citrix may be the modern day Banyan Vines. The stage is set.

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