Novell Is Dead; Cause Of Death Is Lack Of Focus

In yet another chapter of how the once mighty have fallen once dominant network operating system vendor Novell announced today that it's being acquired by long time mainframe connectivity vendor Attachmate. Twenty years ago we would have viewed this as a marriage made in heaven, or at least Maui, as Attachmate's 3270 and 5250 connectivity tools were key to connecting NetWare networks to the IT department's "Real Computers". Today the response seems to be AttachWHO?

Howard Marks

November 22, 2010

3 Min Read
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In yet another chapter of how the once mighty have fallen, once dominant network operating system vendor Novell announced today that it's being acquired by long time mainframe connectivity vendor Attachmate.  Twenty years ago we would have viewed this as a marriage made in heaven, or at least Maui, as Attachmate's 3270 and 5250 connectivity tools were key to connecting NetWare networks to the IT department's "Real Computers". Today the response seems to be AttachWHO?

Attachmate buying Novell surprises me less than it did many of the folks I follow on Twitter. Novell's main assets are SUSE Linux, the ZENworks system management suite and the eDirectory technology.  ZENworks fits with Attachmate's NetIQ group and SUSE can stand on its own. For the rest  Attachmate is well known for maximizing their license income from products, like TN3270 clients, with declining new license revenue going so far as to sue state governments and police forces for under buying licenses.

As a guy who once made his living by being the world's greatest expert in making Windows 3.x work with NetWare, it's sad that Novell's coming to such an ignominious end. Of course over the years Novell made some astounding blunders.

The biggest of course was when Ray Noorda decided that he should take on Microsoft on all fronts by buying WordPerfect to challenge Microsoft Office. Not only did that mean taking on Microsoft's cash cow, but WordPerfect itself was already on the decline as Windows took over from DOS and WordPerfect for Windows was late and frankly not so good.

In fact most of Novell's missteps came from delusions of grandeur and a failure to, as Johnny Mercer's old song said "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive".  NetWare was a highly optimized and, for its time, high performance file server operating system with an outstanding reputation for reliability.  NetWare servers routinely ran for years without reboots as the Netware Loadable Module (NLM) architecture allowed patching on the fly where other OSes (Windows) needed, and still needs, to reboot.  However Novell never properly capitalized on this instead trying to pitch NetWare as a general purpose OS even going so far as to rebadge it InterNetWare. VAPs and NLMs, the native NetWare programs, were always tricky to write and NetWare was a difficult development environment.  Windows programmers could use Microsoft compilers, remember that's where Microsoft started, and they always knew getting programmer support was important.

As far back as 1987 Novell programmers demonstrated an SMB NLM that would allow DOS, and later Windows, PCs to access NetWare server using their native file access protocols but that project never saw the light of day. Instead Novell kept developing bigger and uglier clients for Windows even after most users switched to the Microsoft NetWare client in Windows 9x.  Another blown opportunity was NDS for NT which could have brought an LDAP directory to Windows servers two years before the long delayed Active Directory if Novell execs hadn't insisted it be dependent on new NetWare servers.

But the biggest blunder was not marketing a NAS kit solution like Windows Storage Server.  NetWare was a good PC file server, and a better AFS (Apple File System) server than just about anything on the market. I'm not saying they could have been NetApp, but with a NetWare based NAS, they could have filled a significant niche that would have funded further NAS development.

About the Author(s)

Howard Marks

Network Computing Blogger

Howard Marks</strong>&nbsp;is founder and chief scientist at Deepstorage LLC, a storage consultancy and independent test lab based in Santa Fe, N.M. and concentrating on storage and data center networking. In more than 25 years of consulting, Marks has designed and implemented storage systems, networks, management systems and Internet strategies at organizations including American Express, J.P. Morgan, Borden Foods, U.S. Tobacco, BBDO Worldwide, Foxwoods Resort Casino and the State University of New York at Purchase. The testing at DeepStorage Labs is informed by that real world experience.</p><p>He has been a frequent contributor to <em>Network Computing</em>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<em>InformationWeek</em>&nbsp;since 1999 and a speaker at industry conferences including Comnet, PC Expo, Interop and Microsoft's TechEd since 1990. He is the author of&nbsp;<em>Networking Windows</em>&nbsp;and co-author of&nbsp;<em>Windows NT Unleashed</em>&nbsp;(Sams).</p><p>He is co-host, with Ray Lucchesi of the monthly Greybeards on Storage podcast where the voices of experience discuss the latest issues in the storage world with industry leaders.&nbsp; You can find the podcast at: http://www.deepstorage.net/NEW/GBoS

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