Nine things you don’t know about Novell

NetWare-turned-Linux company has a rich history

If you’re a long-time NetWare user, you might think you know everything Novell-ish. But the company looks a lot different these days than it used to, now that it is focused on Linux, and is claiming customers who never used NetWare. So here, for those of who remember NetWare fondly as well as for you who wouldn’t know NetWare from OS/2, are nine things we bet you don't know about Novell.

If you’re a long-time NetWare user, you might think you know everything Novell-ish. However, the company looks a lot different these days than it used to, now that it is focused on Linux and is claiming customers who never used NetWare. So for those who remember NetWare fondly -- as well as those who wouldn’t know NetWare from OS/2 -- here are nine things we bet you don't know about Novell.

1. What computer game did the original NetWare developers write?

Snipes, a maze game in which you control a creature that destroys things called "snipes" and their hives. According to Drew Major, the so-called Father of NetWare, “When SuperSet (Kyle Powell, Dale Neibaur, Mark Hurst and I) bought our first IBM PC in February 1982, there were no good games and hardly any software available for it. The only games were some lame BASIC-language games such as Donkey, written by Bill Gates, where you were driving down the road and had to jump from lane to lane to avoid hitting donkeys.

Snipes was the first network program written for the PC (because we’d just built the first network), and it was written as a demo to prove that there was in fact a network running and that the network was fast (it had real-time action at 18 frames a second)." (For a more complete history of Snipes from Major, click here.)

2. What was Novell’s first product?

Doing business in 1981 as Novell Data Systems, the company’s first products were computer hardware that used the Zilog Z-80 processor and C/PM operating system. The first product Novell Data Systems shipped was a printer that operated at 160 characters a second. The company started on the design for a terminal in 1981 that could front-end a personal computer, which used 64KB of RAM and had a Z-80 based processor.

3. What idea did Drew Major think up in a shower?

NetWare 3.0, which took advantage of the 32-bit performance of Intel CPUs. The story goes that Drew was in the shower one Saturday morning (at least that’s what he told me when I worked at LAN Times), and thinking about a successor to NetWare 2.5. He thought up the architecture of NetWare 3.0 and its NetWare Loadable Modules, which let applications be loaded onto the NetWare server as needed. We expect he dried off first before he actually started coding NetWare 3.0.

4. How did Novell get its name?

According to Roger White, an early Novell employee, the two founders of Novell Data Systems were at their lawyer’s office preparing to incorporate. Jack Davis planned to use the name Macro Systems, when George Canova said his wife had a great name for the company: Novell. Jack asked, “What does it mean?” Davis said that it meant "new" in French. Considering that the French word for "new" is the masculine "nouveau" or the feminine "nouvelle," it appears that Novell’s current name is the result of a misspelling. You can see Roger’s online book of Novell’s early days here.

5. How did Novell choose red as its favorite color?

There are two stories about this, so choose the one you prefer. The first goes that Ray Noorda walked into a computer store and asked the clerk what color software boxes stood out best on the shelf. The clerk answered "red," and so Uncle Ray dictated that Novell’s boxes would be red. Technically the color is Pantone 485 -- Novell Red.

The other story is that Novell was launching a marketing campaign for NetWare around the holiday season. Judith Clarke, then director of corporate communications, chose red to represent the colors in the campaign. (Here's more about the key role of color in the network industry.)

6. What NetWare commands can you type without using your right hand?

This is a tough one. This isn't something NetWare users do everyday, considering the reliable uptime of a NetWare server. The answers are RESTART SERVER and RESET SERVER.

7. When did Novell first start tinkering with Linux?

As early as 1994, with the launch of the Corsair skunkworks project at Novell. Corsair was a project to create a desktop metaphor to compete with Windows. When then-president of Novell Ray Noorda retired and Robert Frankenburg took over, Frankenburg cut out many of Novell’s unofficial products. A number of employees, dissatisfied with the decision to abandon their project, left Novell and founded Caldera with funding from Noorda.

8. What soda outsells all others in the vending machines at Novell’s Provo campus?

If you’ve worked in Utah, you might think that Diet Coke would be the preferred beverage of Novell employees. While it isn’t easy to isolate the type of beverage most liked at Novell, the Pepsi machines sell the most sodas. In Novell’s cafeteria, Diet Dr. Pepper reigns.

9. Who were the presidents of Novell after founder Noorda, and where have they gone?

Frankenburg served as president from Noorda’s retirement in 1994 until 1996, when he was ousted from the company. After leaving Novell, Frankenburg served on the board of directors of several companies, including Kinzan, a defunct developer of .Net tools; National Semiconductor; and PowerQuest, a storage company acquired by Symantec.

Frankenburg was succeeded by Joe Marengi, after he retired from Dell, where he had served as senior vice president of the commercial business. Marengi was followed by now-Google-god Eric Schmidt – enough said – in 1997. Schmidt left Novell in 2001, leaving Jack Messman and Chris Stone to share the throne. Messman was kicked out of Novell in 2006 and was succeeded by current president Ron Hovsepian. Stone now is president and CEO of StreamServe, a business communications management company.


Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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