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back to article How Novell peaked, then threw it all away in a year

One grey morning in the mid 1990s, your writer was bundled on a plane and flown to somewhere in Germany - it might have been Dusseldorf - to attend the Olympics. Not those Olympics. The inaugural Certified NetWare Engineer Olympics. Marketing for tech companies is tricky, and all the harder in the '90s, when sci-fi visions of …

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At the peak of NetWare I had high hopes that the big red "N" would hold off the charge of the Microsofties.

Now a NetWare 5 box acts a riser for one of my monitors. Like NetWare itself was, it's become an immutable, decidedly practical brick that few ever notice, with Windows sitting on top of it.

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Yeah, NDS ought to have trumped Microsoft but it never quite got the tools right.

Still NetWare was a great product - in my last job we found an old fileserver that had been walled in during building works - had sat there running quite happily for a couple of years afterwards, the only complaints being from the backup software saying that the tape was full.

Came across (well, discovered at least, it wasn't that exciting) a Windows machine running IPX last week - howling into the void like a virtual Greyfriar's Bobby.

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Silver badge

running a few meters of Cat 5?

Huh?

Almost all small businesses were "cheapernet" coax and BNC T-pieces up to 1995. Still some Token ring till 1998.

By 1994 the majority of new installs in small businesses NT Server. or even a WFWG 3.11 box designated as a server. Or clueless people with no server and sharing all on every PC.

In 1989 though when MS had parted with IBM few knew or installed MS OS/2 with LAN Manager and realised that its successor would be the death of Novell. File, By 1994 Print, Files, Wingate Internet Proxy (dialup or ISDN), SQL, Mail Server, Central User database, Native TCP/IP, NT tape backup, Fax Gateway/Server all on one box with a familiar GUI. Novell was toast then for the small business.

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Re: running a few meters of Cat 5?

"familiar GUI"

I think you've nailed it that was the MS best argument. It's ironic though how now MS messes up with their GUI and promoting buggy/ugly CLI tools (PS). Was server 2008 peak MS?

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@AC #69 (was: Re: running a few meters of Cat 5?)

"Was server 2008 peak MS?"

Nope. That was Win2K. It's been all downhill & bloatware since then.

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Facepalm

Common GUI

"familiar GUI"

I think you've nailed it that was the MS best argument.

Absolutely right!

There was a time when Microsoft made a point of telling the world the importance of having a common GUI across all Windows applications. A time when they extolled the virtues of consistent menu structures, of using the system palette in your own application, and of context-sensitive help (including support for the Microsoft-style "What's this?" toolbar button with the arrow and question mark).

Just as the world was starting to understand why these things were good Microsoft themselves threw away the rulebook and produced Vista which hid the menu bar and Office 2007 which replaced the menu altogether with the cursed ribbon.

Talk about a bunch on mindless morons who will be first against the wall come the revolution!

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Purchases

Unless they were going to ditch their own NOS, what was the point of the UNIX purchase? They never sensibly built on it. So they sold it again.

Wordperfect and Quattro Pro (was Supercalc and Lotus better on DOS?) once leading products totally screwed the Windows transition and wiped out by Word and Excel, probably MS's best two products ever and ironically released 1st on Mac. (SQL, Visio, MS-DOS, MS-Basic (DOS & CP/M) all either copies or bought in, and even NT owes a lot to OS/2)

So those three purchases evidence EVEN THEN (I remember) that they had "lost the plot". I remember thinking wait a few months or a year and you'll get WP and Quattro for nothing. Why? So pointless they sold it again. Why did Corel bother to buy it though?

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LDS
Silver badge

Re: Purchases

Quattro Pro for Windows was not that bad - and it introduced the "tabbed notebook" interface Excel had to copy. But MS Office applications were being developed at full-steam, had a common UI, and they were able to take advantage of latest Windows features (DDE, OLE, COM), much faster than the competition, especially when some APIs were kept "undocumented" by MS to hinder competition, and Quattro was lagging behind in speed and features.

WordPerfect was really the biggest issue, especially since outside accounting departments was often the word processor to be the most used application - it was afraid to adopt the Windows model fully because of the fear of disappointing long-time users used to its DOS counterpart, and moreover it was also coded badly - I remember I had a copy which would run on Windows 95 but not on Windows NT where it crashed too often - and at that time many business that could cope with the hardware costs were moving to NT (both clients and servers) for their networks intead of Netware because of easier integration and better security (compared to Win 9x) despite the lack of some features like NDS.

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Bronze badge

Re: Purchases

Corel bought it, because they are apparently running hospice where old software goes to die ...

Where is that RIP icon, when you need it?

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Anonymous Coward

NT owes a lot to OS/2

No, it doesn't. There's very little of OS/2 in Windows NT. In fact, there's probably much more from (Open)VMS in NT than there is from OS/2.

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Unhappy

Re: Purchases

>Unless they were going to ditch their own NOS, what was the point of the UNIX purchase? They never >sensibly built on it. So they sold it again.

I was told by people in Novell that the netware and Unix developers had problems working together. Mainly that the Unix guys wanted netware to become a service that ran under unix and e netware chaps wanted unix to be an application-running API that ran under Netware.

I think I most miss the file compression system. For those who weren't there it ran as a scheduled process overnight and compressed files which hadn't been opened for a specified number of days. Then if they were accessed again they would be decompressed in memory the first time and written back uncompressed he second time. Backups via the normal API got the compressed copies to go to tape too. A simple form of HSM which I wish someone would copy.

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Anonymous Coward

@Adrian Harvey - Re: Purchases

And also disk block sub-allocation without fear of storage fragmentation. Sigh! Those were the days!

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FAIL

Re: NT owes a lot to OS/2

You obviously never browsed through the system files from early versions of NT. A very larger number contained "OS2" in the name. When MS and IBM broke up, they each walked off with rights to use major chunks of the OS/2 code they had jointly developed to that time, and they did. MS brought out NT while IBM continued to work on OS/2. It was the early, basal layer of OS/2 that actually owed a great deal to VMS. The common GUI elements of both Win95 and NT were first implemented in OS/2, which, with 3.0 had a superior GUI to Windows. I used both and OS/2 was much more like one of the better Linux desktops than Windows with a graphical terminal window and a macro language far superior to what was available in the DOS terminal. It had for instance a superior terminal mode. MS wanted to completely eliminate the terminal but so far has failed miserably.

Microsoft's dominance came about through the fact that it gave away Office with new systems for several years. The company had the MS "tax" on CPUs to lean on as a revenue stream and by "giving away" Windows and Office with a new computer could then rely on user laziness and inertia to lead new customers to register and then pay for "upgrades" = bug fixes.

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NT owes a lot to OS/2

Only in the sense that the NT developers were able to avoid some of the mistakes that were made in OS/2.

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Novell was good for me.

The last Netware box I installed was late 2000. I made a very good living out of Novell. For me the only thing that stopped further implementations was Microsofts intentional bugs, which later on in court they had the nerve to say shouldn't have been an issue, because the fake error messages were not fatal.

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Remember it well

I did some pretty basic work with NetWare 3 which I really didn't like back in the middle 90s.

Then NetWare 4 arrived and it really seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. Stable, secure, solid; and the NDS made it easy to work with. I had servers then that were running around the clock without needing a reboot for a couple of years.

But even at the turn of the Millenium, it seemed that Novell were just not up to speed; mostly reacting to changes rather than driving them. A great shame as it was a pretty good product.

But that is life; adapt and move on or perish.

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Pint

@Magister

4 wasn't bad at all, though I never understood why they needed to force the X environment in there. With some servers X could cause quite some hassle to get it going, which basically resulted in being unable to configure or change your NDS tree.

I'd rather would have seen a DOS based 'NSD Editor', like the many DOS based client and administration programs. I've always liked their colour scheme.

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Novell was great

So long as you played the game and kept taking dozens of exams they had an enormous entertainment budget. I went to endless freebies, parties, days out, I remember a mini-olympics like the one in the article, all-expenses paid trips to their annual conference thing in Utah. Good times!

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Ah, the Novell Brainshare...

...none of which was complete without being completely and utterly drunk, a giant bouncy castle and a good band, and a lecture from Joe Doupnik, who could make even wire-level protocols interesting.

I remember one event at Manchester, we tried to get Joe to speak after inhaling some of the helium balloons that were strewn around the marquee as he was fairly high-pitched anyways, and we wanted to know if he'd become inaudible!

I still had a school running netware until about 12 months ago, fairly sad when that was all powered down as it was a really good ZEN/Groupwise/NDS system

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NDS

NDS had features in that Microsoft still haven't ported to AD 20 years later, and NetWare 4 was a very flexible and rock-solid platform but it got stuck in the File and Print niche for most customers and Microsoft seemed to offer greater flexibility.

Back then Microsoft really was a juggernaut, squashing everything in its path. Even though pre-AD Windows NT server was a horrible, horrible product businesses still bought it anyway. WordPerfect was dead the moment that Microsoft created the Office bundle for Windows and took over the market. As for Unix.. well, the irony is that Unix-derived OSes are bloody everywhere APART from the desktop.

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Re: NDS

"Back then Microsoft really was a juggernaut, squashing everything in its path."

Yep, if NT had been stable and scalable, I think it would have squeezed almost everything else out of the data centre.

Its biggest selling point? It looked like regular desktop Windows, so the sales guys would rock up to the CEO's office, show it do him and explain that not only did it look just like his desktop machine, it was just as easy to configure so he would no longer need to employ expensive IT server specialist, the cheap desktop guys could do it more or less in their spare time.

Complete BS, of course, but back then there were even fewer CEOs who had the slightest idea about this "computer stuff", so they were easily hoodwinked.

The first the IT dept knew about any of this was when the new boxes of software started rolling through the door and they were expected to install NT onto their existing kit - usually something that wasn't even an Intel box, never mind being even vaguely compatible.

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Netware

After a particularly excruciating day debugging various issues with a Netware Server (in the early '90s with Netware 3 - just before Netware 4 came out - if I remember correctly) I came up with the following:

Never

Expect

To

Win

Against

Ridiculous

Engineering

The company I was working for at the time upgraded to Netware 4 about 18 months later and had all sorts of issues with migration... The result: a move to Windows NT...

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Bronze badge

Novell seemed to be Microsoft's partner in the monopoly

They bought every competitor to Microsoft and broke it.

I bet Microsoft broke out the drinks every time Novell bought another one.

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Good thing Novell was not based in Isreal. I don't think you could have gotten away with the same tag line: "XYZ Product Anniversary And a bunch of Jews made the biggest tech buy you've never heard of".

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Novell ate some seed corn by trying to monetize their SDK - in the early 90s we needed to implement a lightweight timestamp server on a Netware 3.x site and found that we'd need to spend almost half an annual salary and switch to a particular release of Watcom C (with some magical library format) At the same time MS was pushing the Win16 SDK for a pittance and it worked flawlessly with our existing Borland Turbo C. No network support yet (bodged with a Paradox DB engine) but it got us into the MS camp and of course there we stayed. Foolish greed by Novell - along with some dirty tricks MS has often won by just being a bit less daft than their opposition

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There was also a tie-in with a round-the-world yacht race

Around '94 or '95 they also did some kind of tie in with one of the round the world yacht races - possibly the Global Challenge. Much lower barrier to entry which meant, rather to my surprise, I ended up winning a day out at a Land Rover offroad centre. Jolly good fun.

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Banyan Vines anyone?

A strange beat but ahead of ours time for directory services compared to NetWare and MY.

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Hostorically missing the point...

Windows 95 is the tool Microsoft used to break everything Novell tried to do.

The real error Novell did was having a product 100% dependent on someone else's OS. By the time they figured out that maybe they should do something about that... it was too late.

So Microsoft gave a set of Windows 95 APIs to Novell, on which Novell created versions of Netware clients and productivity suite... then at the last minute, Microsoft switched the APIs... forcing Novell into a panic rewrite, which cause major delays and buggy software. That gave Microsoft just enough time to release Windows NT and their own version of Office and TahDah... Novell went from the dominant networking King, to a buggy crappy sofware company, while Microsoft was right there, ready with replacement products that work "perfectly"...

Everything after that was almost inevitable.

Novell didn't "throw it all away"... Microsoft just destroyed them. By the time Microsoft was proven guilty of monopoly abuse in court... it was too late.

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Re: Hostorically missing the point...

It's definitely "sharp practice" but not "monopoly abuse". There wasn't any monopoly and those were the times where "software patents" were still inexistent.

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Those were fun times. In a very short times the company I worked for had bought

over 600 PCs and we networked them with NetWare.

We also took part in the Beta tests for OS/2 2.0, which if you could get it to install,

was really good for a sysadmin. I could login to all the NetWare servers simultanously,

had a usable Xserver for administrating the Solaris and AIX servers, and terminal software

for mainframe access. Something that wasn't possible in the windows world for years after..

Unfortunately both Novell and IBM seriously underestimated the marketing prowess of Microsoft

IBM Marketing strategy then was 'Put IBM on the box and it will sell' and even though OS/2 2

was vastly superior to Windows 3.1 it failed.

I also suffered with Wordperfect for Windows as well, Wordperfect for DOS with Windows 3.1 worked

ok, but as soon as we installed the Windows version the shit really hit the fan. Crashes and lockups

all the time. I spent so much time trying different network drivers, and configurations to improve

the stability but to no avail. Eventually we installed MS Word, not because it was better, but because the user

could work more than an hour without having to restart.

Shame really, I really liked NetWare but they just never seemed to have a plan.

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Anonymous Coward
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Lots of blame to go around on this one

In the early 90s I remember being called in to build an app for a very large company to simplify the process of addin users. They were spending an average of 20 minutes per account. Which involved creating home directories, copying application data around, etc. Novells tools were all command line based and disjointed.

Sure they worked but you did need to be a CNE, and they were expensive. The app I put together streamlined new user setup to the point it took 30 seconds. Immediately 4 of the 10 CNEs were "freed up" to find another job.

MS essentially did the same thing. User setup was simple; client setup on the networking side was also relatively easy. Smaller teams could now be depended on to keep things going.

But there was more. Borlands turbo basic, turbo pascal and microsofts Visual Basic, Clipper and Dbase brought a lot of new programmers into the industry. Putting an app together than ran on NT was almost child's play. Writing an app to run on Netware was archaic.

So as a business which way would you go: cheap programmers and fewer network admins or stick with Novell? They simply didn't adapt and died as a result.

Btw, some people mentioned that the Netware client had more features. This didn't matter as only a couple things matter to a manager. Can the employees log in and work? Novells client required extra setup and maintenance while installing all sorts of crap most people couldn't have cared less for.

Another thing to add: you don't need control over the desktop to win in the server market. Linux is doing great on servers for one simple reason: php. Linux was low cost ( free ) and with php you essentially have the tools to do anything. The one thing Novell should have done is bought ColdFusion. This would have turned their network OS into an app server.

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TCP/IP vx IPX

One of my memories from the early 90's was that it was easier to get LANManager to use TCP/IP natively. You could get NetWare to use TCP/IP instead of IPX, but it was a bit more difficult, and some of the NetWare tools didn't work without IPX. LANManager was "protocol agnostic" - you could use IPX or TCP/IP or DECnet, or just plain NetBIOS, so as TCP/IP became more significant, LANManager had a slight edge.

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gem

Developers, Developers, Developers

I think Novell actaully knew what it had to do to compete with LANManager, but was unable to do so due to the mess its development model had become. Microsoft made it easy for the developers with MSDN, while it became so hard to write code for Netware that even Novell could no longer do it. Novell was announcing good feature updates, but then was unable to deliver. The best engineers had moved on and those that replaced them just went round in circles slowly making things worse instead of better.

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Godlike geniuses

"The usual situation when companies grow like this is that execs assume it is their own godlike genius that has created the situation, and begin behaving accordingly."

You hear all this talk about psychopath bosses. Were they always like this? Did the situation turn them into psychos? Is there a psycho in each of us, waiting for a chance to unleash?

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Re: Godlike geniuses

No, they are physically different. At least that's what I hear what brains scans show. But then again, these may be unreliable.

Also, the Voght-Kampff test.

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Anonymous Coward

I must say that for once I am very disappointed in El Reg. Whilst not a member of the LDS Church myself, I still respect the sanctity of their traditions. This article was linked with an image of Temple Garments, these are to be kept private and not exposed to the world. Doing so is an affront to the LDS Church and a disgusting show of religious intolerance.

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Don't worry I'm sure the next time El'Reg does a story about a company based in a predominately Muslim country they will show a picture of Mohammad on their home page.

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Anonymous Coward

temple garments

I assume that's a troll. The difference between the Mormons and, say, the Jews is that Judaism arose in the late Bronze Age and the Bible is the selected literature of one of the world's great cultures, while Mormonism arose in the 19th century among gullible settlers, and a cursory look at its official book shows it to be laughable. There is simply nothing in the BoM that either has literary merit or throws light on the past of the US.

Mormonism deserves ridicule.

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Re: temple garments

All those that believe in an imaginary friend deserve ridicule - no matter if made up by a conman in the 19th like Mormonism, 20th century like Scientology or a few thousand years ago - have you really ever read those supposedly holy books and not seen that they were all man written inventions!?

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ConsoleOne/NDS for all it's slaggings it gets, in 6.5 could do things that Active Directory 10 years on still doesn't do by default.

Want to know what workstations a user is logged into from a central base? Two clicks away in ConsoleOne. In AD? Without installing cumbersome third party (not including Terminal Servers) it's very difficult.

Amending folder permissions? In NDS, just change the permission in one place - hey presto, 2 seconds work. In AD? Click, hope, and leave your computer on all night!

You can repeat it ad nauseum: ABEND vs. BSOD, Novell clustering V Microsoft clustering.....

I often wonder how Novell actually lost that battle?

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Fond Memories

I jumped ship to Microsoft at around NetWare 4.12 stage. A shame in many ways because NetWare and GroupWise were pretty lean and effective products. When I think of the amount of hardware required to run an enterprise e-mail system these days, it was remarkable what could be achieved with a single 200MHz Pentium Pro based server.

My own horror Novell experience came late one night in Lanarkshire. Our WAN provider had made changes to our router (on our request), but I had to back those changes out. The change involved removing IPX support. So I was forced to teach myself IPX routing in the middle of the night, to save my bacon. A bit of online research, and a few wild guesses later, and that was the IPX routing back on line.

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there were others too

Anyone remember ICL microlan and the DRS range of networked cp/m, c-cp/m, unix & ms-dos machines?

http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/det/13997/ICL-DRS-PWS-Installation-Guide/

microlan was really neat. light cables with double uk-telephone type sockets.

I must have had the only Unix machine (ICL-DRS6000) that did not run tcp/ip. It did run 4 microlan cards, connecting 4 vt220 terminals to one drs socket. We used to have quite a few DRS-300's but mainly acting as 7561 VME terminal emulators rather than sharing Wordstar documents.

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