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Novell goes shopping

Nov 17, 20033 mins
Enterprise Applications

Novell just recently completed 18 months of acquisitions that is rivaled only by its own buying spree of 10 years ago in its boldness and potential for dramatically remaking the PC landscape.

In 1993, Novell bought Digital Research and its DR DOS. Earlier this year, Novell bought Ximian with its emphasis on the Gnome desktop environment. In 1993, Novell bought Unix Systems Labs, while earlier this month it bought SuSe Linux. The year 1994 saw the network giant acquire WordPerfect (and Borland’s Quattro Pro) – for its office productivity applications and services – while last year the company scooped up SilverStream for its Web server-based applications and services.

Both buying sprees were responses to Microsoft. In 1993, Novell was still the worldwide network leader, but Windows NT was about to make inroads into that leadership. Novell, thinking it was safe on the server front, elected to attack on the desktop and office productivity battlefield. But WordPerfect for Windows, Quattro for Windows and the other lightweight applications Novell assembled were simply no match, either in features or in performance, to the juggernaut that was (and is) Microsoft Office. Fighting the desktop battle drained resources from the server side and left the company vulnerable to a Microsoft counterattack.

DR DOS and UnixWare (the offspring of the Unix Systems Lab purchase) were never more than niche players attracting only the most adamant of Microsoft haters.

Novell had the opportunity and the resources to fight the battle 10 years ago (its best sales year ever was 1994), but the company’s management was split by dissension over the seeming monomania of Chairman and CEO Ray Noorda to bring down Bill Gates at any cost. Noorda might have brought it off by sheer force of will, but he was ousted by an alarmed board of directors (some say at the behest of current chairman Jack Messman, erstwhile friend of Noorda). A series of well-meaning but plodding CEOs followed as the company lost all sense of direction.

Now it seems the former network powerhouse has another chance, something not often found in high tech. What it doesn’t have is the cash flow of 10 years ago to fall back on. We hope that this time Novell chooses its battlefields (and allies) more wisely. If it succeeds, we’ll all be enriched. If not, there won’t be a third chance..

Tip of the week

Banyan Systems was once looked upon as a network leader with its Vines operating system. Never strong in marketing, the company abandoned Vines some years ago and went into consulting as ePresence. Sadly, ePresence is now gone, with its assets sold to Unisys. Novell, take note.