Is Novell Still a Force to be Reckoned With?

Even today, 81% of Fortune 1000 companies use Novell software. New products continue to come out, and several have been trend-setters, like Novell Directory Services. Why then, does everyone laugh Novell off as a has-been?

By Drew Bird | Posted Apr 4, 2001
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A couple of weeks ago I ran across an article that listed the top ten high tech failures of recent years. Somewhere around number 8 was "anything from Novell" -- a position that placed it embarrassingly close to Microsoft Bob. While I won't argue that some of Novell's recent product offerings have been a little unusual, to say that every product from one of the worlds leading software company's is a high tech failure seems to be taking things a little far. Is Novell really a high tech failure, or are they still a force to be reckoned with?

First, lets have a little reality check. It is true that Novell's network operating system (NOS) market share is not increasing. It is also true that with the emergence of Linux and Microsoft Active Directory that Novell is likely to face more, not less, competition in the NOS market. It is also true that Novell, in its efforts to reinvent itself, is still not managing to tell enough people about its "One Net" message. On a more positive note, 2001 will see full version releases of both NetWare and GroupWise, two of Novell's flagship products.

So why the bad publicity? Why do journalists and pundits (and it is more than one Web page article,) seem to be doom-saying Novell? Perhaps it is a case of perception creating reality as these negative stories serve to convince the IT world of Novell's impending doom. Whatever the thrust behind the anti-Novell messages, it's hard to see what is to be gained from these little tirades. Are competitors so concerned by NetWare 6 that they are engaging in propaganda? (The aforementioned top ten list appeared on MSN.com.)

Speaking to Novell's representatives, it would seem that reports of Novell's demise have yet to reach Provo. Novell's employees and PR reps wax lyrical on a range of subjects including the new features in NetWare 6, the TV ads ("Have you seen them yet?"), and how their overall marketing machine is moving into a high gear for the launch of GroupWise 6. You mean Novell's marketing machine has gears?

In terms of numbers, Novell certainly has some impressive figures. Even with the eroded market share a full 81% of the Fortune 1000 companies use Novell software. There are 90 million users connected to 4.5 million servers. In March, over 7000 people were interested enough in Novell's products to travel to Salt Lake City and attend BrainShare -- the large majority of these people actually paid for the privilege. With these figures in mind, you have to believe that the bad press that Novell receives is more to do with competitors than the feelings of the industry as a whole.

Perhaps the biggest issue Novell has right now is not the enemy outside, but the enemy within. The growing frustration by Novell technical professionals about the lack of progress within the product line is causing them to start questioning their own loyalty. As one newsgroup posting pointed out, "if Novell can't be bothered to tell people about NetWare 6, why should I do it for them?" This posting was within a thread discussing the lack of information about NetWare 6, which is due to be released in Q3, (or was it Q4?)

I guess the bottom line for Novell is this: Everybody understands that changing the focus of a software company takes time, but people have already been very patient. The changes that Novell have made might appear to bearing fruit, but time is of the essence. If Novell is to become the powerhouse it was in the past, it needs to be producing world-beating products. And if it is doing that already, it needs to tell people about it.

Drew Bird (MCT, MCNI) is a freelance instructor and technical writer. He has been working in the IT industry for 12 years and currently lives in Kelowna, BC., Canada.

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