Novell was an original. The first and best storage company, it supplied a filer that delivered files over the LAN to PCs. Amazingly it did it faster than they could get files from their local disks. Its operating system, Netware, was simply great. Its strategy was simply lousy.
Novell saw itself as an operating system company. It had pretensions to be a desktop operating system company and built up a set of desktop applications to meet and match and hopefully best Microsoft. Instead it joined the long, long list of companies bested by Microsoft in that space.
It had, it still has, pretensions to be a server operating system company. It built up a whole set of server middleware layered onto NetWare and tried and tried to make customers buy into its vision. Not enough of them did.
So Novell tried separating off its middleware and selling it as Windows add-ons. It did the jobs customers needed doing better than the Microsoft middleware. Novell's directory was better than Microsoft's Active Directory, that sort of thing. In the generality of the market it cut no ice.
So then Novell bought a services company and tried to re-invent itself as a software-and-services operation. That didn't work either.
So then Novell tried a new operating system. It bought SuSE, inherited an IBM relationship, and started supplying its middleware to the Linux market. SuSE's founders soon left. This is Novell's current bag. Will the company find that this is the strategy? Is this the one that will deliver the goods and restore Novell to its rightful place, alongside giants of the IT industry that Novell has been a contemporary to?
I mean Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs and co., and I don't think it will.
Jack Messman was one of the founders of Novell. Once it was on its way to be the superstar, he went away in its early days and did other things. He came back to the company in the nineties, when he, amazingly, was in his seventies, and tried to rescue the poorly-performing customer outcast that Novell had become.
He went through CEOs, COOs, CTOs and chief marketing officers like a manic revolving door. Chris Stone came and went twice. Eric Schmidt left Sun to join as CEO and he went. Looking at how Google has prospered under his tenure, Novell shareholders must be grinding their teeth.
Poor Jack - I know, it ill behoves me, a poor hack, to criticise a multi-millionaire, serial entrepreneur and founder of Novell, but a cat can look at a king - so, poor Jack, he misunderstood.
While Novell was speed-dating rescue strategies as a desktop and server operating system, supplier EMC was building a gigantic storage supply business and NetApp grew to become a huge filer supplier.
Novell was the original NAS supplier. Without Novell there never would have been a NAS business and Network Appliance wouldn't be fighting EMC for dominance in a storage business that, overall, is many, many times bigger than Novell ever became or could become.
Novell missed the storage boat because Messman and all the COOs, CEOs and CTOs and marketing officers he hired, influenced, constrained and sacked; they all saw Novell as a server and sometime desktop operating company. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Novell was a storage company and it turned its back on its birthright, gave it away, walked away and left the field for Joe Tucci, Dave Hitz and others.
It's a bit of a tragedy. Clearly Jack Messman stayed too long at Novell, but the board that appointed him shared his vision of what kind of company Novell should be.
Well, what kind of company should Novell be?
It's too late to return to the storage fold. It is a supplier of SuSE Linux, allied layered middleware, and a maintainer of a NetWare customer base.
The marketing image of this has-been-superstar is a red N.
It should be a red dwarf.