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What is that stirring in Novell’s cage?

Apr 29, 20033 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Is Novell about to breathe new life into SuperNOS?

Is Jack Messman out to resurrect Frankenberg’s monster?

Last issue, I talked about Messman’s “preview” of NetWare 7 at the annual BrainShare conference, and his comments that it would ship in two “flavors” – a traditional NetWare version as well as a bundle of services that would run on the Linux kernel.

Messman’s comments got me thinking about Novell 10 years ago. Back then, the company was floundering. Networking icon Ray Noorda had been forced to retire in the wake of his buying spree (WordPerfect, Unix Systems Laboratories, DR-DOS and more), a vain attempt to compete at all levels with the upstarts at Microsoft. A very worried Novell board of directors (which included Messman) brought in Bob Frankenberg (see: for my take on his short reign at Novell) to, essentially, liquidate the company. But Frankenberg (perhaps due to his stint at HP) thought the company could be saved and had a vision about how to do that.

NetWare was losing marketshare to Microsoft’s new Windows NT server primarily because of a lack of applications that could run on NetWare. Microsoft was heavily promoting its new “BackOffice” services (including SQL Server and the beginnings of Microsoft Exchange Server) while pointing out that NetWare mostly was used only for file and print services. Frankenberg thought NetWare needed an application services platform to which developers could easily program than the NLM structure that was required for NetWare. So he dreamed up SuperNOS.

What was SuperNOS?  This excerpt from a vintage Novell press release attempts to explain it:

“SuperNOS is a program to integrate NetWare … with UnixWare, the leading application server platform into a single set of modular, configurable software. The first step in the process has already begun with NetWare technology being integrated in UnixWare 2, including IPX/SPX and ODI [Open Datalink Interface] device driver support, and NetWare 4.1 implementing the same SMP [Symmetric Multi-Processing] threads technology as offered in UnixWare 2. Subsequent steps will involve integrating NetWare file and printer sharing and NDS with UnixWare and, ultimately, development of a common, modular, microkernel based architecture capable of supporting either NetWare or UnixWare services or both and configurable by the user.”

“UnixWare,” by the way, was the entry level Unix system designed by Novell and later sold to SCO in 1996.

The “first steps” mentioned in the press release were also the “last steps” for SuperNOS. Once Frankenberg left Novell in 1996 (and left rather abruptly compared to other CEOs), SuperNOS was never heard of again. So what happened to the project? Is it still lying dormant, ready for Messman to resurrect it? Are the engineers who worked on SuperNOS being kept hidden in a deep cave somewhere along the Wasatch front? Will the battle cry of “Look! Up in the sky! Is it NetWare? Is it Linux? No, It’s SuperNOS!!” ring out in Provo once again? Tune in next issue for the exciting conclusion.