Thus until a few weeks ago, Novell had been known as an enterprise, networking-software company. However, last year, Novell got serious about porting its products to the GNU-Linux operating system. Mid-summer, Novell joined in the SCO v Linux fracas -- on the side of the Linux community and against SCO.
Then Novell acquired Ximian, which had developed an e-mail, MS Outlook-like application for the GNU-Linux desktop, and Novell set in motion acquisition of SUSE Linux. The SUSE Linux acquisition was completed just a few weeks ago.
That now makes Novell a full-spectrum software company with its own operating system and applications -- again. And that puts Novell in position to challenge Microsoft's software empire and dominance -- again. Moreover, for the first time, it also puts Novell in a position to be the leading commercial Linux and open source software distributor -- putting Novell ahead of Red Hat and IBM in the commercial Linux and open source software business.
Will Novell be able to make a successful challenge to Microsoft's operating system and computer software dominance this time? Will Novell become the leading commercial Linux and open source software distributor? We believe so.
Deja vu Novell, all over again?
Novell started in 1979 as Novell Data Systems, a computer manufacturer and disk operating system developer. In the early '80s Novell became involved with file-sharing, printer-sharing, and developing local area networking (LAN) for PCs.
Then in the 1990s Novell acquired two operating systems, Unix and DR (Digital Research) DOS, and what then were two premier, PC desktop, office applications, WordPerfect and QuatroPro. (In those days, Novell also acquired a licensing agreement for Borland's Paradox database but had not bought the product, per se.)
On the DOS side, the Novell people produced WordPerfect 6 for DOS and QuatroPro 5.5 for DOS, which behaved just like MS Windows programs but running on top of DOS. The Novell developers had added multi-tasking, direct link library (DLL), object linking and embedding (OLE), and great easy-to-use graphical interface components to WordPerfect for DOS and QuatroPro for DOS.
In 1994, Novell spiked the software Richter scale up to about at least a 7 if not higher when Novell introduced PerfectOffice for Microsoft Windows. There was no other office productivity set of applications that came close to Novell's PerfectOffice when it was introduced. (Please see the About Novel's PerfectOffice Suite note in the right sidebar.)
There was no Microsoft Office at that time. Lotus had AmiPro, 123, Approach, and Freelance Graphics, which Lotus had bundled together as SmartSuite in 1993. However, I did not try it then so, I do no know if SmartSuite was a fully-integrated office suite at that time.
Another somewhat integrated set of office productivity applications at that time was the (DOS) PFS series of applications from Software Publishing Company. PFS Professional Write, Plan, and File had somewhat of a similar user interface across the applications series.
However, there was not anywhere near the across the series of applications integration and interoperability that Novell innovated with its PerfectOffice suite. It was more of a superficial look and feel thing rather than an integration and interoperability sort of thing. (Please see the PFS Note in the right sidebar.)
So just as now, back in the 1990s Novell grew from a networking software company into a full-spectrum software company with two operating systems, Unix and DR DOS, and the great desktop applications encompassed by the PerfectOffice Suite. Common knowledge then was that Novell was out to whoop Microsoft's butt and it looked as though Novell would do just that. However, as Novell CEO Jack Messman points out further on in this article, there was a fundamental flaw in the 1990s Novell plan to take on Microsoft.
Because of that flaw, Novell started divesting all this great stable of OSs and applications that it had acquired and developed. Unix went to SCO (then not associated with Caldera), DR DOS went to Caldera (then not associated with SCO), and much of the WordPerfect, QuatroPro, and PerfectOffice stuff went to Corel.
While there is lots of deja vu here, there are some significant differences. The most important of these is that it looks as though Novell will pull it off this time.
One reason is that Novell now has open-source GNU-Linux rather than proprietary Unix or DR DOS as its operating system. Back in the early 1990s and before Novell divested its operating systems, Unix was not a PC (as in Intel x86 architecture) operating system per se.
There were some Unix variants such as 386BSD and Xenix that could run on x86 machines back then, but they were not a factor in the battle for x86 desktop or laptop computer deployment.
Linux is an x86 OS and considered by many to be part of the *NIX family of Unix flavor operating systems. However, in the early '90s Linux was just starting out, a command-line rather than graphical interface OS, and not yet competitive with Microsoft Windows. Moreover, Novell was not using Linux to compete with Microsoft at that time. Rather, Novell and Ray Norda banked on Unix System V and DR DOS for that job -- and they failed.
(There is more detailed and very informative discussion about Unix history in Chatper 2 of Eric S. Raymond's new book, The Art of Unix Programming from Addison Wesley. Link in the Resources section on page 5 of this article.)
By the mid-1990s, DOS of any flavor was slumping into obscurity. PC hardware growth and development was making PC machines enterprise/server grade machines. And MS Windows was well on its way to becoming close to the only PC OS in use.
In a practical, realistic sense, the 1990s Novel did not have a viable PC operating system. If you think about it, and hindsight is always such a convenient thing, in the 1990s Novell did not have a PC operating system with which it could go head-to-head with Microsoft.
And perhaps even worse for Novell, Microsoft Windows was starting to have built-in networking software -- thus going head-to-head with Novell's bread and butter networking software.
OpenOffice 1.1 -- A Complete Office/Productivity Software Suite for GNU-Linux, FreeBSD, MAC, MS-Windows, Unix, and more