Going Canadian: The Rise And Fall Of Novell

During the 1980s and 1990s Novell was one of those names that you could not avoid if you came even somewhat close to computers. Starting with selling computers and printers, they’d switch to producing networking hardware like the famous NE2000 and the inevitability that was Novell Netware software, which would cement its fortunes. It wasn’t until the 1990s that Novell began to face headwinds from a new giant: Microsoft, which along with the rest of the history of Novell is the topic of a recent article by [Bradford Morgan White], covering this rise, the competition from Microsoft’s Windows NT and its ultimate demise as it found itself unable to compete in the rapidly changing market around 2000, despite flirting with Linux.

Novell was founded by two experienced executives in 1980, with the name being reportedly the misspelled French word for ‘new’ (nouveau or nouvelle). With NetWare having cornered the networking market, there was still a dearth of networking equipment like Ethernet expansion cards. This led Novell to introduce the 8-bit ISA card NE1000 in 1987, later followed by the 16-bit NE2000. Lower priced than competing products, they became a market favorite. Then Windows NT rolled in during the 1990s and began to destroy NetWare’s marketshare, leaving Novell to flounder until it was snapped up by Attachmate in 2011, which was snapped up by Micro Focus International 2014, which got gobbled up by Canada-based OpenText in 2023. Here Novell’s technologies got distributed across its divisions, finally ending Novell’s story.

47 thoughts on “Going Canadian: The Rise And Fall Of Novell

  1. I miss NetWare. It was so incredibly stable. I remember a story of a classmate that was an intern at a company that lost a NetWare machine. It was running fine, but they couldn’t find the physical machine. Turned out that they hired a company two years prior to put a fake wall in front of a real wall, to make the place look better. The server was against that wall and construction was done in the weekend. They forgot to remove the server and the construction company put the wall exactly where they wanted it, enclosing the server. He showed me pictures of them breaking the wall. Server was running just fine. It’s sad Novell went the way of the dodo, with SuSe and RedHat.

    1. I had a client in the early 2000s lose an AS/400 development system in a similar fashion due to office remodeling. No one from IT moved the system, so the construction crew just did their thing and walled it up where it stood. It ran that way for almost four years. When the construction crew finally popped open the wall the people there said that the amount of heat that streamed out was amazing. As I recall, IBM ran an ad about it along the lines of Timex with “takes a licking but keeps on ticking”.

    2. Ugh. This story comes around every 3 years or so but it’s a different software stack. The first several times I heard it the server was Linux. I think it’s just an urban legend now.

      1. I loved Novell 3.xx.

        I’ve seen that story one a few times but there are documented cases of Novell servers being connected to and recovered from buildings which were bombed by terrorists (I actually have my own story of one recovered from a building that had been bombed by the IRA), one was of an IT consultant who found a length of coax poking out of the rubble, teminated it with a new BNC, T-Piece and terminator then was able to login.

        1. And how was the power still on with the building reduced to a pile? Didn’t anybody cut the switch at the distribution transformer to prevent rescuers and workers from electrocuting themselves while poking around?

          1. It’s called power management. Very likely they had a decent UPS running and rule of thumb was to not connect high consumption equipment like monitors (tube) and printers etc. We’d measure up-time in years for 3.1x servers not days.

    3. I knew one of the IT guys working for GSU as a student employee back in 04 to 08. Apparently they found a number of servers, legitimate and otherwise, above the drop ceilings of multiple buildings on campus. It became standard practice to check there when they couldn’t physically locate a node.

      I heard stories of them hidden in ancient desks, functioning refrigerators, and quite a lot in the crawl spaces under lecture stages. Not sure if those situations were from GSU though.

      There was a big “crack down” on torrent servers then too. They’d run around the dorms with a wireless packet sniffer revoking student access to the internet. Which didn’t really slow anyone down in the long run. We’d just point a cantenna across the parking lot and use wifi from another building.

    1. The directory services stack (AD) in Windows 2K is what killed Novell. That was the last version of Windows where group policy actually worked consistently. Subsequent versions didn’t have the big testing done that 2K had and they farmed everything out to India.

  2. Whenever I built new systems for customers they always had DOS, WFW3.11 and the Novell Netware client. And that all came off of a Netware server.
    I still have an Intranetware 2-user demo CD which I think I got at a training seminar.

  3. As a retired CNE from 90’s and a ex-worker of Novell for a short perod of time before its collapse, I just wanted to thank you. You remined me my beautiful memories of a distant past. I feel better ❤️

    1. Pfft, never a problem with the NE1000 or the NE2000 if you knew your way around a PC, interrupts and I/O addressing, the EISA NE3200 could be a bit tricky until you learned the secrets and the microchanel versions just worked out of the box as long as you had the right .adf files.

        1. In that era, if you couldn’t do that, you had little chance of doing *anything* successfully with a computer. At least, with the manually-configurable cards, you could force it to work if you committed enough time to the project.

          When it came out, the plug’n’play stuff spent a few years being a part of the problem, more often than part of the solution. Of course, it eventually worked okay, and by then, prices had dropped so that the added complexity didn’t really add much cost anymore.

          Even so, for the cost of a 3c509, you could get enough ne2000s to build a small lab. The 3c503 was just as expensive, and not nearly as plug and play.

        2. You mean that you didn’t keep a server logbook documenting all of the hardware and software configuration of a server?! For shame! At least interrupts or memory addressing didn’t randomly move when they were configured by dip switches.

      1. I once saw a machine lose network connection when the serial mouse was disconnected, but only after reboot.

        The mouse driver looking confused the 8 bit network card, which was on interrupt 3 or 4.

        Of course I ‘fixed it’ by hooking up a mouse.

        I also remember why adding RAM to Netmare 2 could cost you a file service process. Eye twitches…D-group RAM… I wish my brains garbage collection worked better.

    2. Ah, the 3c509 and 509x. 3Com’s bread n butter. My first corporate IT job was in a place that used Netware 4.11; it was an interesting NOS to work with. I did a little bit of time with Netware 5.0 in the waning days, it was.. also interesting, just not in a fun way.

  4. I got my CNE (Certified Netware Engineer) in the early 90s around the time NetWare 4 was coming out. I learned loads about how networks worked from that. Forgotten most of it now of course.

  5. Netware was a great piece of software. I worked in the engineering dept of a local hospital. My experience with Netware was in maintaining the nurse call system. In 20 years I never had an issue with the Netware side of the system. Though upgrades were sometimes challenging.

  6. 3.12 CNE here, also went to Groupwise bootcamp in Utah. I can definitely recall a few boxes that hadn’t been rebooted in years. Sammy the snake making trails for 2 years straight…….

  7. Oh yeah, NE2000. Some of these parts came in with hand-wired functions, so the price was somewhat cheap compared with Schneider & Koch 16bit cards for 4 times as expensive. The servers were common PCs with patched BIOS for adorable HDDs (and stunning 240 MB in the 90s)

  8. What I loved the most about NetWare was you could have a critical failure of any loadable module (nearly never happened) and tell the server to keep on working until you could scheldule downtime to resolve the issue. Fantastic design! Windows by comparison did have the option to change the BSOD to be red/green/yellow… which I guess must have been a useful feature to someone.


    That and the Nsnipes battles royale we played after hours. Of course management has banned it from the servers but I kept a copy handy for when the current copy was discovered and removed. We in the know changed the PATH to access the program to wherever I hid the new copy.

  10. We rebooted our Novell servers either, (1) upon upgrade, or (2) annually. Only after installing my first NT server did I learn the words, “Server Anomaly.” NetWare ran file & print services for a 100-user network with 64 *Megabytes* of RAM on ancient Compaq hardware.

  11. I remember the clients being finicky and difficult. Sure, the server didn’t need much and kept chooching but the clients were troublesome, at least on win 9x. Server is no good if you can’t talk to it.

  12. I entered IT in 1988 and self thaught Novell Netware in my Company while we outsourced Server Installation to a not so skilled Man and i took over all our national wide installations.

    The Problem was that i was a young man with no degree and and i initialy worked for coding in Cobol the day, been a Janitor in the same Company cleaning toilets and making maintainace the rest of day and earned the right to sleep (and live) in the working space ´caus a was homless too.

    No more money, no new contract over years and i decided to leave to make the work on my own.
    The Company lost its Programmer/Admin/Janitor in 1person for about 1000$/M complaining i was to high paid and have no education.
    The Company closed 1yr later …

    I loved Netware until Novell was outdated

  13. Novell isn’t going to sleep with you…You necrophile CNE bigred suckups.

    Netmare sucked balls. Just slightly less then their competitors.

    I got Netmare out of my system decades ago. There is nothing like shooting a spinning 5.25 hard drive containing Netmare 2 with an 06. I felt better…

    As good as Netware 3 was, Netmares 2 and 4 made up for it. Two just sucked and four was _unnecessarily_ complicated.

    If should also be noted that Novell came up with the business model of selling certifications and franchising certification training schools. CNE was the A+ of the late 80s and 90s. Meant nothing.

    One of the best times I had with Netmare:
    I found and bought a grey market license for less than the _cost_ to the local Novell cert franchise. The owner of said franchise’s wife was working at same place. He heard and was very unhappy. I suggested he get his licenses for sale from Vietnam too.
    That was better then shooting it.

  14. I remember Netware fondly. The security granulation was easier to manage than Microsoft’s (admittedly just after MS had ‘discovered’ networks). But it did not help that when MS added a Netware client to (I think) WFW3.1 they drove a coach and horses through NW’s security and effectively anyone running the MS client could see and alter any file on the server. I always thought that would have been the proximate cause of Novell’s demise.

    Incidentally, the first network cards I bought, of NE1000 vintage, required me to sign an NDA before the supplier would ship them! Given how many different clones there were of both NE1000 and NE2000 that would seem to have been a waste of time; possibly even a Streisand Effect.

    1. I actually had a client that I was migrating from Netware to Microsoft 2003 that wanted the new file server to work just like Novell’s did. I despise all universities ever since that experience.

  15. So many memories! I started maintaining a Netware server as a teenager in high school, then in college took that up again as well as maintain the comp.sys.novell faq. I never got a CNE because I was a poor college student, and instead switched to Unix (Sunos, NeXTstep, SGI IRIX).

  16. I came a bit late to the network world. I worked for a local school system as a department manager and assisted with some Netware management.

    Later, I moved to another local government job as the network and system admin. We ran Netware 3.12 and later 3.2 before upgrading to Netware 5.

    We stayed with Netware for another couple of years before switching to Windows 2K because that was what our main application ran on. Netware had flaws, but it was the door through which I entered the IT field; a files that provided me with challenging employment for over 20 years.

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