Farewell, Novell

So farewell then, Novell.With its acquisition by Attachmate -- yes, Attachmate -- Novell is no more.

So farewell then, Novell.

With its acquisition by Attachmate -- yes, Attachmate -- Novell is no more. You might wonder why this matters.

Novell brought local area networking to the PC. Before Novell, there was a mish-mash of network operating systems and protocols, all of which did the LAN thing to a greater or lesser degree of efficiency.

Novell had two key assets: NetWare - a highly efficient network operating system that was as robust as they come, possibly robuster. So efficient and robust was it that anecdotes of servers that just kept running for years on end without needing either hardware or software upgrades were commonplace.

Novell also gave us IPX, a network protocol that was similarly fast and, critically, lightweight. In the days when 640k of memory was your lot on a PC, and a fair chunk of that disappeared when the system booted up, the existence of a network protocol that was both efficient and left room for applications to run was a bit of a rarity. By way of contrast, I remember loading up IBM's NETBEUI protocol stack and wondering how I was going to run WordPerfect in the remaining teaspoon of RAM.

Around the time that Microsoft Windows started properly to get its feet under the table in the early 1990s, Novell started losing its way. It diversified out into Unix and into applications, deciding that it wanted to compete head-on with Microsoft. Few had won that fight and many advised against it but nonetheless it bought WordPerfect. It was a disastrous move that presaged a long, slow decline into near-irrelevance until things started perking up around the time the company moved into Linux.

But even that was not enough to catapult Novell into the top tier of vendors.

Novell had its glory days when it ran networks pretty much everywhere and, while it saw the danger posed by a company -- Microsoft -- that competed with it from the top to the bottom of its product stack, Novell was unable effectively to win against a company that was much bigger than it was. There were alternative paths for the company but it chose not to take them.

Yet Novell was a key building block of today's technology edifice that allows us to access data almost anywhere at high speeds.

Over the years since I first encountered the company in the mid-1980s, I must have written tens of thousands of words about it and its products. I'll miss it and so, I suspect, will many others for it was one of those rare companies that never seemed to upset anyone. Spare a thought.

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