In the early days Microsoft tried to use the single-tasking DOS and Windows 3.1 as file and print servers. Novell's dedicated server software, Netware, employed a multi-tasking kernel and as a result was a lot more efficient than Microsoft's Lan Manager. However the advent of Windows NT changed all that. Microsoft then had the appropriate operating system for file and print serving. It was as usual Microsoft's superior marketing that was the biggest problem for Novell, but equally significant was the fact that NT, like Unix, was a general purpose operating system compared to the special purpose Netware. As a result it was easy to port other server software products, in particular database products such as Oracle, Sybase, etc. and the advent of client/server computing left Novell trailing behind.
Novell tried to reverse this trend by buying the rights to Unix from AT&T, but they simply didn't understand the market or the product and sold it on to SCO. They reverted to trying to upgrade Netware, adding a Web server and a Java Virtual Machine. This in fact was a good system but by when it was implemented users were looking for more flexibility and NT and Unix were to far entrenched. Novell missed out on the Java bandwagon to BEA, IBM, Oracle, et al.
However Novell have continued to hold on to a lot of customers because they did develop a very well thought of e-mail and Groupware system, GroupWise. This was later aided by a flexible directory server, way ahead of Microsoft prior to their Active directory. There are a lot of organisations who are unwilling to get trapped into Microsoft and they have been remaining loyal to Novell. This however cannot last forever, and it is difficult to see where new customers would come from.
Novell have now got a new management team and they have made a positive move to stay in business and hopefully to grow again. They have bought into the market for Open Source products by taking over German Linux specialist, SuSE for $210 million (they still have cash apparently). SuSE sells a version of Linux, with a turnover of about $40 million, mostly in Europe. They lag behind RedHat, but the hopes are that Novell, being an American company, can boost these sales, particularly in the USA. It will be difficult, but not impossible, to redirect the Novell sales force and to exploit the existing customer base.
Obviously IBM has some faith in the new management because they have invested $50 million in Novell. IBM have Linux developments of their own for future releases of AIX, but for Intel platforms they are recommending SuSE and RedHat (that has annoyed SCO as IBM ignore their Caldera system). However it is a mainframe version of SuSE that IBM uses a lot, an area completely foreign to Novell.
Clearly Novell are not going to make a living by selling SuSE licences only. The plan is to port all the Netware server applications to Linux, which would provide continuity for Netware users and open the door to other server products, such as Apache, MySQL, etc. Like all other computer suppliers today Novell must look to value-added services, in particular packaged solutions, with attendant support. Itremains to be seen as to whether Novell's new management can move the company forward and to avoid another disaster akin to the Unix effort.< BR>
Martin Healey, pioneer development Intel-based computers en c/s-architecture. Director of a number of IT specialist companies and an Emeritus Professor of the University of Wales.