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The Technology Pieces Fall into Place:
Advanced NetWare

By November 1984, most of the pieces of the Novell that would later dominate the LAN industry were in place.

The company was profitable and had a diverse product line.

It had clarified its marketing and development strategy: Novell was a software company whose products freed users of the limitations of proprietary hardware systems. All users needed was the NetWare operating system and they could use whatever hardware they wanted.

Most importantly, as a result of IBM’s PC LAN announcement, NetWare’s file server technology was finally recognized as the superior solution to the problem of networking PCs.

But one important piece was still to come: Advanced NetWare.

Before Advanced NetWare

As Ray and Craig worked to win industry support of NetWare, SuperSet labored to make hardware independence a reality.

Achieving it created a steadily increasing drain on SuperSet’s development time and energy, and by 1984 the drain was enormous. The job of creating shells in NetWare to support different kinds of PCs, different PC operating systems, and different types of network cards occupied SuperSet from 1982 until well into 1984. With Project Piranha in 1984 (see pg. 119), NetWare server side had to be ported to all the major network hardware, not just the client shells.

And while they plowed through the hard ground of compatibility problems, the SuperSet guys were also working on a new version of NetWare. The new version, called Advanced NetWare, simplified adapting client and server software to various hardware platforms, allowed users to add multiple servers to their LANs and to connect previously separated LANs together via “bridges”. (Bridges, routers, and gateways are three different ways of connecting different kinds of networks together. The terminology was not standardized in the ’80s, so Novell had different meanings for the terms than, say, Cisco does today.)

Novell’s product line at the end of 1984 showed how far the company had come from offering just the S-Net system of 1983—and how prolific SuperSet had been.

There were two major product lines: 1) complete LAN systems, where software was bundled with hardware in packages that sold for $2,000 to $25,000, depending on the package, and 2) separately sold LAN software, including the NetWare Operating System, network communication software, and program generator languages used with making NetWare-compatible applications. Individual copies of NetWare cost about $1,500 each; the other programs cost significantly less.

Novell sold four different kinds of LAN systems, three of which were OEM products.

Variations of each NetWare/86 system used the IBM PCXT, IBM PCAT, or IBM clones as file servers. Each of these could support up to 50 PC workstations, 252 megabytes of disk storage, and 3 shared printers. The file servers could be either dedicated file servers or combination file server/workstations (non-dedicated file servers).

Advanced NetWare

Two Problems

Advanced NetWare solved a couple of looming technology problems that SuperSet, in particular, saw coming.

The first problem was a growing product line of custom-developed NetWare versions—in essence, a new OS for each new piece of server hardware and network board.

The second problem was that each of these LANs was standalone: It did not “talk” to other LANs or other networks.

Advanced NetWare addressed both of these.

To solve the problem—the growing complexity of too many servers and LAN boards—Advanced NetWare changed the architecture of basic NetWare. The OS was divided into an unchanging “core” that was linked to “drivers”; the drivers handled dealing with the peripherals that would be installed on the server and/or on the “clients”, the PCs that were networked with it. At first these drivers dealt only with different LAN boards. Later they also dealt with the disk controllers of high-capacity disk drives. (Printers were handled separately.)

This linking occurred at installation time. The person installing was asked which LAN boards were installed in the server or client “box”. The installer program then asked for appropriate floppy disks to be put into the disk drive, from which drivers were uploaded onto the user’s system.

This linking process was revolutionary to NetWare. It allowed the list of usable LAN boards to be updated rapidly by simply developing new driver floppy disks and it allowed the PC to support more than one board at a time—up to four.

This also opened the door to solving the second problem, letting NetWare LANs be connected to LANs, LANs to host computers, and LANs to remote PCs. With Advanced NetWare, bridges between networks were possible, so networks of ARCnet and Ethernet could be attached together (and were at Novell).

Since this same architecture of core-and-drivers could be used in the client PCs as well as server PCs, it opened the door to using clients as bridges as well as servers, which opened the door to even more interconnectivity. (Note that bridges in this early Novell terminology acted more like what are now called routers.)

NetWare/86, in the last of the basic and first of the Advanced versions, could operate on no fewer than 12 different LAN hardware systems. These systems offered different topologies, transmission speeds, communication media, and protocols. Some were broadband systems; others were baseband (single-channel) systems.

Below is a list of the 12 different LAN systems that SuperSet succeeded in porting NetWare to in 1983 and 1984. The list shows how fragmented the LAN marketplace was in 1984, how monumental a task it was to realize the goal of hardware independence, and how important the Advanced NetWare concept was going to be for further growth:

Novell Name


LAN Type


Davong Systems



3Com Corporation

EtherLink (Ethernet)


Gateway Communications



Nestar Systems

PLAN 2000


Corvus Systems






Orchid Technology



IBM Corporation

PC Network


Standard Microsystems



3M Company, Interactive Systems Division



Western Digital Corp.





NetWare was also sold in various modified forms to OEM customers who would then sell NetWare as part of their LAN systems. No significant income was generated in 1984 from the OEM customers Novell had lined up, but in subsequent years OEM sales would account for a significant percentage of total sales.

Other Products

Besides NetWare, Novell sold other software products such as communications software, electronic mail, and interpreter programs. Communications software included gateway products to connect PCs through their NetWare LANs to mini or mainframe systems. NetWare/ EMS was an electronic mail service. Various runtime and interpreter programs allowed application programs written in popular programming languages to operate without modification on NetWare.

Novell customers also bought various hardware components and equipment from the company. For example, users who added PCs or storage devices to their networks might buy additional network interface cards, disk subsystems, cabling and connectors, S-Net LAN boards, network server memory, or other components from Novell. Such equipment sales accounted for a relatively small—but nevertheless important—percentage of total income. In the early years, every dollar was important.

The Evolution of Advanced NetWare

By the middle of ’84 it was SuperSet’s turn to wrestle with alligators. They had been so successful at proselytizing other companies that they now had developed dozens of drivers for various network interface cards (NICs). They were about to get overwhelmed with the dreaded bugaboo of all successful software programs, software maintenance: If you develop it and sell it, then you’ve gotta fix it when it goes wrong and when things change. If Novell sold a dozen different kinds of NetWare then it was going to have to maintain a dozen different kinds.

There was another problem with the custom NetWare trend: Cost to the resellers. There was no way a reseller or distributor could stock a dozen different kinds of NetWare profitably.

This wasn’t a new problem and SuperSet applied themselves to the established solution: Make Advanced NetWare modular and design it so that the custom parts could be “linked” into a single uniform whole.

This linking idea had one other benefit: There was no reason to stop at linking just one driver into the whole—two, three, or even four could be linked. Up to four different kinds of NICs could be supported in the same box. Advanced NetWare became the tangible result of Craig’s vision of a year earlier when all the boards were supported from a single box. The linking was designed to allow all the boards to talk to the computer and to each other. Having two different boards talk with each other was called “bridging” by SuperSet. With Advanced NetWare, bridging between different kinds of hardware was supported for the first time in NetWare.

This linking also took some of the development burden off Novell. Other companies, such as the hardware designers themselves, could design drivers for NetWare. They would put a floppy disk in with the NIC boards they sold and instruct their users to insert it at the appropriate time during installation.

With this linking, Advanced NetWare was a powerful breakthrough that saved Novell Engineering from getting bogged down in the task of supporting dozens of LAN boards. But it had drawbacks, too. Advanced NetWare shot the floppy disk total in a NetWare package to over thirty and added diskaerobics[Footnote 1] to the battery of skills needed to accomplish a successful NetWare installation. NetWare became something much more easily installed from one file server to another rather than from the floppy-disk set.

Advanced NetWare allowed NetWare to become comprehensive, but some of the complexity it unloaded from Novell engineering it threw to the reseller’s installers. Installing became a complex task, and NetWare started its evolution from being a simple extension of a personal computer operating system to becoming a complex minicomputer-like operating system that required minicomputer-like technical support.

Footnote 1: “Diskaerobics” is a Roger-coined word for an activity made obsolete by later storage technology. It was the exercise of inserting floppy disks in and out, in and out, of the disk drive—preferably under the driving beat of something emanating from a Walkman. Symptoms of diskaerobics overindulgence: Glazed look, frayed temper, calloused finger tips, and “disco elbow”.

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