Farewell, Novell

Farewell, Novell

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

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TOPICS: Networking
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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.

Topic: Networking

Manek Dubash

About Manek Dubash

Editor, journalist, analyst, presenter and blogger.


As well as blogging and writing news & features here on ZDNet, I work as a cloud analyst with STL Partners, and write for a number of other news and feature sites.


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An IT journalist for 25+ years, I worked for Ziff-Davis UK for almost 10 years on PC Magazine, reaching editor-in-chief. Before that, I worked for a number of other business & technology publications and was published in national and international titles.

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4 comments
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  • I get frustrated with headline grabbing tosh.

    If Novell is to be run as a separate Business Unit of the Attachmate Corporation, just like Attachmate and NetIQ and indeed Suse Linux, in what sense is "Novell no more"? From the Press Release: "Attachmate Corporation plans to operate Novell as two business units: Novell and SUSE; and will join them with its other holdings, Attachmate and NetIQ."

    Novell - carries on under private ownership. Sure there may be changes, but Attachmate intends to retain the Novell and Suse brands.

    Perhaps if you were better informed?
    Balders1
  • I would also like to echo that this headline is totally inaccurate, misleading and represents journalism of the lowest kind, shame on you. Big changes are afoot, time will tell what they truly bring, but this article contributes nothing to the debate. Look elsewhere readers for informed comment on this subject.
    JamesGosling
  • The division of Novell I'm wondering about myself is identity; while Active Directory dominates and the vision of a directory that would give me pubic access to public, commercial and private resources never arrived (bottom up and messy has won out over formal and structured online, because comprehensive formal and structured is *expensive*), the directory team at Novell has moved on to do some really interesting work on moving identity technology beyond access and authentication - I wonder if that will survive in the Attachmate Novell division.

    @James - I suspect that the breadth of what a company like Novell can do may not survive as a division of another company; there's 886 fewer patents, a separate division for what I still capitalise as SuSE and a higher-level strategic and business direction that will all mean that Novell as a division may well not be what Novell as a company has been. At the very least we've lost Novell as an independant company on the scale that it has been; we've lost the continuity of a company that's been intact from those early days. That may be no more than a feeling of nostalgia, but it's a reality that Novell wasn't surviving on its own and there's a sense of the end of an era in that sense. Of course the new era may be shinier and better, but it may well not (the ongoing digestion of Sun by Oracle isn't the only model but it's one that casts a shadow).

    and having had to fettle a NetWare 3.11 server, I don't have nearly such rosy memories of it; handrolling a driver for every new network card that came along wasn't the highlight of my afternoons ;-)
    Mary
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • NetWare wasn't the easiest of systems to code for, agreed. And my piece was intended as a farewell to Novell as an independent company - perhaps I should have made that clearer....
    Manek Dubash