Remembering Ray Noorda

Ray Noorda died earlier this week and many of you have sent me notes about his passing. He had a profound influence on many of us in the networking industry and was behind many of the technologies and trends that we now take for granted. As a member of my parents’ generation, he was a father figure and mentor to me and many others.

Noorda ran Novell during its glory years of the early 1980/90s. The Novell of yesteryear bears little resemblance to the present company. It began operations in a small Utah suburb located a few miles from the campus of Brigham Young University, and pulled much of its programming talent from the students at the computer science department there. For those of you that have never been to Provo, it is an odd place to start a high-tech company. Provo is dominated by a wall of mountains to the east and rolling hills to the west. Salt Lake City is about an hour up the freeway, past a prison and a bioweapons campus. Until Novell got going, there wasn’t much in high-tech around. Nowadays, the area is filled with former Novell engineers and staffers who have started hundreds of companies, some of which were funded by a private VC firm that Noorda set up with his Novell-created wealth. Intel had a huge presence there, and many others opened up offices to take advantage of the talent that came to the area.

I met Ray several times, and my career in networking was deeply involved with Novell for many years, as sources for my stories, products that I tested and wrote about, clients for my consulting business, and just friends that I made with the many fine people that worked there.

During Ray’s tenure, Novell owned Unix for a period of time, was the first company to get serious about TCP/IP networking, built the first dedicated PC file servers that were any good, made Ethernet networking cards into a solid commercial business, created the first extensive channel program for networking integrators, sold the first PC database servers that could be easily extended, moved network servers into the datacenter, sold integrated email servers, developed the first usable directory service, and many, many more innovations that now seem so ordinary and business-as-usual. They often had a handle on technologies before any of us really knew what to do with them. I am sure that I am forgetting about a few other things here and there.

If you look at this collection of technologies, it is an impressive list. Many of us learned about networking as Novell brought out new software and services, and went through the certifications on Novell products – certifications that were once worth something: and difficult to obtain, requiring more than just paper knowledge and protocols. I covered numerous product launches as a journalist and they were always fun because you could usually get some Novell executive to open up and give you some colorful background. One of these briefings was held at an exclusive ski lodge in the nearby mountains, which was lost on me because I don’t ski but still was a fun place to go. My first taste of Sundance was through many events that Novell held there, too.

I remember my visit to Japan to introduce that country to its version of PC Week. The visit coincided with Novell’s own Japanese launch and I surprised several American executives when my byline for that event appeared in PC Week. Our first networking shootout for PC Week between Ethernet, Arcnet, and Token Ring cemented many relationships with the parties involved in that test. We got Novell to fix the poorly performing Token Ring drivers, not that anyone cares today about Token Ring or Arcnet for that matter.

Novell stories figured prominently in those first issues of Network Computing, a magazine that I created with plenty of support from Novell in 1990 and is still publishing today. When I first opened up shop as a consultant, one of the first things I did was put a Netware server in the Guggenheim Museum to test products for Intel. I think it was a 386. And while I still have my Netware software discs, I don’t think I could set up a server without a lot of work.

Novell was the first to take advantage of the protected mode of 286 chips, beating IBM’s OS/2 to the punch by a few years. It was this file server that I installed at Transamerica Occidental Life back in the mid 1980s, which was the first LAN to be installed there, despite IBM trying to get us to use their crummy attempts. Thus began my own networking career in IT and then into journalism, where I have covered networking topics ever since.

One of my favorite conference speaking sessions was one Interop where I sat down with Drew Major, the principal architect of Netware, for an hour in front of an audience and just had a great talk about the past, present and future of networking. Drew was the real deal and for many of us the soul of networking. At one point, Interop was combined with Networld, Novell’s annual partner conference.

Ray was far from a perfect leader. His biggest weakness was miscalculating Microsoft’s rapid adoption of many of his principle network ideas into Windows 95. Windows 95 was the first Microsoft OS to incorporate a Netware client as part of the OS, and the beginning of the end for Netware. His biggest mistake was buying Word Perfect, another Utah company that fed off local talent, but bled Novell dry and took it away from its core networking competence. He had plenty of hubris when it came to protecting his intellectual property, and many of the almost comical events surrounding Caldera’s Unix lawsuits can be traced to his early litigation with Microsoft on PC DOS.

Today’s Novell is a shadow of its former self. No one cares about Netware anymore, although it is still in use here and there. Its vast and powerful reseller base is in shambles. They are still involved in Unix, having bought SUSE a few years ago. They still sell a directory service, and it still has features that are lacking in Microsoft’s Active Directory, not that anyone thinks about this either. They moved their HQ across the country.

Ray, thanks for taking this young pup for such a great ride in our industry. Those of you that would like to post your own comments and tributes to him, please go to my blog at or send me emails with permission to post your thoughts.

A look back to 1995

Web Informant turns 11 this month. Hard to believe that for the most part I have been writing these things for so long. Harder still to believe that many of you have been reading them (and commenting on them too) for so long. So first off, a boat load of thanks. It has been a lot of fun to write these things, and I hope I can keep them coming for another 11 years.

I got into a reflective mood this morning, after taking a trip down memory lane by reading Techweb’s excellent historical view of the Web.

They claim that the Web was invented in the summer of 1991, although I have seen references to earlier than that. Most of us didn’t start really using it until the first Windows and Mac browsers came out a few years later.

So let’s go into the Wayback machine and see where what was happening 11 years ago:

We had browsers that were just beginning to display tables and images in-line, and Netscape was still the dominant force in browsing technology. They began developing their own browser extensions then, which was the beginning of their demise, helped by Microsoft, too many programmers, and AOL along the way. Now Microsoft is losing browser mind share to Firefox. Funny how the pendulum swings back and forth.

If you got a copy of these early browsers, they fit on a single floppy disk, and we still had PCs that came with floppies too. For those of you too young to remember these, the ones we used in 1995 could hold a megabyte of data and were small enough that you carry in your shirt pocket, back when shirts had pockets. Now we can buy USB key drives that hold 1000 times as much for about $50. I guess it is time to throw out my collection of floppies now.

Around 1994 the Web started to take off, with some reports putting the growth in actual sites from the low thousands to more than 25,000 sites by the end of the year. Back then, email and FTP traffic were the dominant information flows, and let’s not forget about Gopher, the first hypertext protocol, too.

Before 1994, we had computers that had integrated TCP/IP protocols in them, they were called Unix computers. For the rest of us, we had to deal with installing a separate piece of software that handled communications. Remember NetManage? Microsoft Windows for Workgroups and the Mac OS 7.5 both included support for TCP/IP in their operating systems that year.

Back in 1995, OS/2 was still a viable operating system and IBM had high hopes that it would still become popular, even going so far to take its Warp codename and use on the product. And OS/2 had built-in TCP/IP protocols, if memory serves correctly, long before Windows did. I remember that IBM had Kate Mulgrew appear at the launch event — she played Captain Janeway on one of the Star Trek series. Linus Torvalds was still in graduate school working on the thesis that would eventually spawn Linux and reinvigorate the open source world and make Unix safe for the rest of us.

Back in 1995, I first started writing about how the browser was turning into its own operating system and computing environment. Now we have plug-ins galore for all of the major browser versions, and many commercial software products have some kind of browser interface too.

Back in 1995, there weren’t too many affordable choices for broadband access — indeed, I don’t think the term was in much use then. I think I was still using an ISDN line, and happy to get all of that 112 Kbps of connectivity that I got. Cable modems and DSL lines would happen later. Back then, we had lots more phone companies too before they all started combining with each other. And AT&T was still selling just long distance and not the local provider for the middle of the country. MCI was still doing business, and UUnet was one of the stronger ISPs around. Neither had gotten involved with Bernie Ebbers’ thievery yet.

Back in 1995, I already had my own domain name for several years, which seemed like a novelty at the time. It was easy to obtain a domain name — and they didn’t cost anything either. Cybersquatting, phishing, ad banner tracking, and cookie stuffing were all still relatively unknown. Blogs hadn’t been invented, nor podcasts, wikis, or mashups. We were still using Yahoo to search the Internet. It was a time of relative innocence. No one used VPNs. Routers still cost thousands of dollars. Ethernet was locked in a battle with Token Ring, and wireless networks were expensive and not found anywhere near places selling coffee.

If you want to go into the Wayback machine back 20 years, take a look at something that wrote here.