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Comdex 82: The Slough of Despair

According to Judy, Comdex 82 that fall was Novell’s low point.

For weeks prior to the show we weren’t sure if we were going or not. We’d paid for the booth space and the booth, but even so it’d be on one moment and off the next.

Those weeks were the period in which the Novell founding team was forged, the survivors and the believers who got to know each other’s measure. They had faith that the network was a sound product and useful to the market. What they needed now was a way to get it out from under the heap of other Novell products the market had rejected, and the heap of other obligations Novell’s existence had created over the last two years.

Judy remembered how they affirmed their dedication.

There was a meeting, I remember, in particular. I don’t know exactly when it was or much other detail about its circumstance. I do remember that Drew, Kyle, Dale, and Craig were there. I was there and we were going over the spec sheets that I’d just put together for Comdex. It was for Comdex Fall and we had had eight Presidents that year. And we were just fed up.

We knew we had a good product. We knew that it was the LAN. And by that time I was so involved in it that I was really excited and determined. And I wasn’t—at that time I wasn’t—interested in making any money out of it, or anything. I just thought it was “a cause”.

But all these Presidents would come flipping through there and they didn’t [know what they had here]. Sometimes we didn’t even know who they were! They’d just walk in and say, “I’m your new President.”

We thought, “They don’t care about us. The owners of the company don’t care about us. They don’t care about the product. They just want to get rid of us.” They were trying to sell us. And we were holding the threads together.

So we were sitting in the conference room going over the spec sheets and reading them and we were talking about the show and how we were going to do it with no money. They [Safeguard] kept … every other day they would call up and say, “Cancel. You’re not going to go.” And we had just about everything all put together and all we had to get was the printing done.

So we all just said, “We’re going to do this even if we don’t get paid.” They thought … they were telling us they were going to cut all our salaries. They were going to close the doors. They weren’t going to make the next payroll.

And so we said, “We’re going to do it! We’re going to do it! Not even if we don’t get paid, we’re still going to do it because we know it’s a good product.” And so we all just looked at each other and we just said, “Now, we’re going to do it. No matter what, they’re not going to stop us from doing it.”

And I don’t know if the others at the meeting even remember it, but it was so significant to me because I thought, “These guys are really believing in this technology. They know how good it is.” And they were not fools, they knew what they were doing.

And it just got me so excited to this cause. “Save this, this software! We’re going to take it to Comdex!”

And we did it. And I think that right there was the big turning point because there was just a group of a few people and we were absolutely determined to let the world know about this product—almost like a rebellion. I felt their dedication. It won me. I really wanted to be a part of this and make it happen.

The Story the Booth Told

Novell’s booth at Comdex chronicled the company’s fortunes. In 1980 Jack and George were in a booth without product. In 1981 the booth had the wrong product for the time. In 1982 the booth was filled with the right product for the time but Jack and George were gone.

The differences between Comdex 81 and Comdex 82 were ironic. In ’81 Novell had money but no LAN product. In ’82 they had a LAN product but no money. In ’81 they had a big booth filled with lots of high-powered high-priced talent. In ’82 the booth was a simple wall of screens showing a Novell network in action and the high talent left after the year of crisis was strictly high tech.

And, most of all, Novell needed a President.

The Comdex show went smoothly. The LAN worked and booth visitors were impressed. The big news of the day was that Sandy took this as the moment to can Dave. Remembered, but unnoticed at the time, was an older visitor to the booth who introduced himself as Ray Noorda.

After the show, Sandy left and Jack Messman was back again. Behind him was the New Jersey man who was still interested in Novell and still offering his low price. A letter was sent to the remaining employees stating that it was likely the company would move to New Jersey and asking who was interested in relocating. Novell was about to become part of this other company.

Harry Armstrong remembers those days.

“I got the letter and told Messman that my cowboy boots were stuck on too tight. I wasn’t going back. I’d worked in Hauppauge ten years earlier when I was in aerospace. I knew what I’d left behind, and I’d left for good reason.”

The First LAN Ships

In December of 1982, just before Ray took over, the first two production LANs were shipped, one domestically and one overseas. Novell’s LAN era began just as it was to find its permanent President.

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