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Novell: BrainShare or BrainDead?

Mar 21, 20062 mins
Data Center

My buddy Deni Connor titled her recent Novell piece, “Does Novell Still Have Mind Share,” a play on the Novell BrainShare user meeting currently underway. Deni and I have both been working with Novell in various incantations since the mid-1980s. This is one rare time she’s more polite than I.

I believe Novell has gone from BrainShare to BrainDead. This hurts me to say, because 11 of my 16 books have NetWare in the title. I made a lot of money writing about and consulting on NetWare. I miss NetWare.

I felt the pain of Novell’s continuing management ineptitude for years, until the BrainShare conference I attended in 2003 convinced me the weight of management mistakes reached the tipping point to irrelevance. Pick your mistake: buying WordPerfect for billions to fight Microsoft head on, then losing badly and selling WordPerfect for pennies; owning Unix but selling it to SCO as the Internet and Web servers exploded; or marketing the world’s leading server operating system, constantly winning awards for both security and performance, into oblivion. I choose the last mistake, one perpetrated over years of marketing miscues.

What happened at BrainDead 2003? My NetWare 6 book was out, and Novell was readying NetWare 6.5. The publisher wanted me to write a NetWare 6.5 book, but I turned down the contract. Why? Novell executives did nothing at BrainDead except ignore the upcoming NetWare 6.5 and talk about how wonderful NetWare 7, based on Linux, was going to be. NetWare 7 turned into OES (Open Enterprise Server), now selling about one license for every seven of the comparable server from Red Hat.

Incredibly, some Novell people blame former CEO Eric Schmidt for ruining the company. Yes, that Eric Schmidt, so stupid he’s turned Google into a global powerhouse. When I heard the current executive team announce in 2003 they were staying in Boston and sneering at the idea of moving to Utah, where most of the Novell employees are, I knew that was the end.

I grew tired of the fight and bailed. I can’t blame current NetWare users for following my example. At least the NetWare story will live on in Harvard Business School case studies as a shining example of mangled management.