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In 1981 the personal computer industry cried out for a standard … and IBM produced the IBM PC. IBM asked for help from Microsoft and Microsoft produced MS-DOS. Many buyers cheered and bought; many manufacturers wailed and gnashed their teeth; the industry churned and grew immensely. A standard was made.
In 1983 the LAN industry cried out for a standard … and IBM produced PC LAN Program featuring NetBIOS. IBM asked for help from Microsoft and Microsoft produced MS-DOS 3.1 to replace MS-DOS 3.0. Many buyers cheered and bought; many manufacturers wailed and gnashed their teeth; the industry churned and grew immensely. A standard was made.
NetBIOS was a standard communications driver program IBM produced as part of PC LAN Program. It defined a standard way to talk with a LAN board. MS-DOS 3.1 added “hooks” to the operating system that defined standard places to make networking “calls”.
A hook is a piece of code that is not complete in itself but that provides a convenient place to add features later. It’s the software analogue of a hardware expansion bus.
A call is a command in a program that brings in a feature from another piece of code. For instance, when a word processing program is ready to display a character on a screen it calls the video display function from the operating system and hands it the character. The word processing program itself contains no code to display characters on the screen. It counts on the operating system to carry out that function.
In the case of networks, the MS-DOS calls meant that network programmers would no longer have to pry apart the MS-DOS operating system and fit their network calls into the system in various customized ways; they could all use the same standardized framework. Applications programmers wouldn’t have to be detectives and figure out how their applications would interact with these various customized ways of calling a network. They could count on network commands responding in a standardized way.
SuperSet had already pried MS-DOS apart, so for them this new feature offered little technological improvement, but for the sales side of networking this was manna from marketing heaven. IBM had spoken; and in the ’80s when IBM spoke, a standard was created.
The reflexive impulse when somebody else brings something new onto the market is to say, “Ours is better, why are you considering that product?”
Novell could have done that; over the years it’s been shown that NetWare did have some distinct feature and performance advantages over IBM/Microsoft’s various offerings. Adding to that temptation was the fact that PC LAN Program, IBM’s first offering, was a lightweight item. (It lasted only about six months as a serious LAN operating system contender before being replaced by Microsoft’s MS-Net.) Novell could have trampled all over it and “won” the argument about which operating system was better. But would doing so have sold more NetWare? Probably not.
Instead, thanks to the open systems orientation that Craig brought to Novell, and Ray’s sensitivity to the importance of what it means when IBM moves, a different solution was developed: The “jujitsu” or “join ’em” solution.
Novell declared that it was supporting the NetBIOS and MS-DOS 3.1 standards, and that these standards were good because they would help the industry grow. Novell took this jujitsu one step further: Novell pointed out that IBM had decided that file service was the right way to handle a LAN operating system and that Novell had been doing file service for two years now. This was jujitsu indeed! Novell customers could have their cake and eat it too: They could use Novell equipment, still be IBM-compatible, and get the technology that IBM had blessed in a package that worked better than IBM’s offering.
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