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Tales In Tech History: Novell

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Not many tech firms come from the US state of Utah, but for many years Novell was the bedrock of local area networks

The Mid-Western US state of Utah is arguably best known as the land where the Mormon community chose to settle in the 1850s. But it was (for a time at least) also home of one of the leading technology players.

This company was networking giant Novell Inc, which was based Provo, Utah. It had been initially formed back in 1979 in Orem, Utah under the name Novell Data Systems Inc.

For 30 years Novell was a hugely important tech player, as its technology formed much of the foundation of the local area network (LAN), a networking model that displaced the traditional server and thin client approach of the years before it.

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The Beginning

Indeed, the LAN played a vital role in the growth of the PC, which saw clusters of LANs crop up in countless offices around the world in 1980s and 1990s.

But how did it begin?

Well Novell Data Systems was actually created in 1979 by Dennis Fairclough,George Canova, Darin Field, and Jack Davis, thanks to seed funding from venture capitalist Safeguard Scientifics.

Novell aimed to produce CP/M-based systems, but its microcomputer struggled against its competitors and in an effort to better compete against them, Novell Data Systems decided on a cunning plan of a computer program to link more than one microcomputer to operate together.

Novell founder Dennis Fairclough, as well as new hires Drew Major, Dale Neibaur and Kyle Powell, were tasked to create this program, and the good news was they had all had previous experience of working on government contracts which gave them vital insight into the ARPANET (forerunner of the Internet).

Whilst Fairclough, Major, Neibaur and Powell were designing their networking computer program, the board of Safeguard (which had provided Novell’s funding) ordered the firm to be closed down. Thankfully additional funding was secured from two Safeguard investors as well as investment bankers, which allowed Novell to continue to develop its networking program, which could work on computers from other companies.

Founder Jack Davies and George Canova left Novell Data Systems in November 1981 and March 1982 respectively. But it was 1983 that proved to be the year that made Novell, as a man called Raymond Noorda was hired, and in January 1983, the company’s name was shortened to Novell Inc.

Noorda was promoted to CEO of Novell and later that same year, the company introduced its most significant product, the multi-platform network operating system (NOS) – Novell NetWare.

NetWare Success

Novell NetWare was essentially a proprietary hardware server that could operate a local area network using a star topology with twisted pair cabling. There was originally two versions of NetWare. One was designed to run on the Intel 8086 processor and another on Motorola processors.

The server was using the first network operating system (NOS) called ShareNet, later renamed to NetWare. In 1986 it introduced GroupWise messaging and collaboration software.

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