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Other Developments

The Rise of CompuServe

Large scale computer networks for public use were being pioneered in 1986 and CompuServe was one of the pioneers. Novell saw CompuServe as valuable for their e-mail system and for their forum system (forerunner of chat rooms and blogs). The forum system was an ideal way to handle technical support issues—one person could ask a question and dozens to hundreds of interested people could see the answer. This saved dozens to hundreds of phone calls to tech support. Novell’s tech support on CompuServe forums was called NetWire.

(Epilog: CompuServe was the Internet of the ’80s, and could have become the Internet of our day if it had been more aggressive in expanding its presence. Instead it was bought by H&R Block and run in a conservative fashion. Instead of leading it was swept up by the Internet tide. America Online—AOL—bypassed CompuServe by hitching itself to the rising Internet technical boom and the dot-com business boom. Nevertheless, between the mid-’80s and the early ’90s, CompuServe was king.)

A Path Not Taken: Job Server

Novell did not pursue all the possible technology paths of LANs. And some paths were pursued in fits and starts, often as labors of love nourished in the Engineering Department.

One of those was the Job Server concept: Partitioning a big computational task into smaller, more manageable chunks and then handing those small chunks off to workstations to “crunch”. When the workstation finished a chunk it would hand results back and ask for a new chunk. The server that handed out chunks and arranged finished results was called the Job Server.

During Christmas–New Years’ vacation of 1986 a bunch of Novell engineers came back into the office to show off a massive demonstration of this Job Server concept. They arranged for one hundred workstations to share the problem of calculating how to display a piece of a Mandelbrot graph. Chaos theory was the hot science item of 1986 and a Mandelbrot was the symbol of it.

The demonstration worked flawlessly, but it was not enough to fire the imaginations of the powers-that-be at Novell, so Job Service was not pursued as a NetWare feature.

But that was not the end of the Job Service concept. It has showed up again and again in the networking world. Twelve years after the Novell Christmas demo one of its most widespread implementations was the SETI@Home project, in which volunteers install a screen saver program on their workstations. Whenever workstations are not busy, the screen saver has them analyze chunks of radio signals for signs of intelligent communications and feed their results back to the SETI@Home Job Server.

Contrasting Marketing Plans

MS-Net, Microsoft’s replacement for their first LAN offering, had considerably more success than its predecessor, and it was marketed quite differently from how Novell handled NetWare.

Microsoft’s MS-Net was a “core” without drivers, licensed to OEMs for them to add drivers to match their product line. They could and would add embellishments to make “their” version of MS-Net more attractive than other versions of MS-Net.

This approach had some benefits.

It also had some disadvantages.

TeleVideo was one of the first companies to sign on with Microsoft’s MS-Net program. They were enthusiastic and competent. So competent, in fact, that they were helping Microsoft redesign the core so that the hooks were easier for other companies to work with. In spite of their help, MS-Net remained for many years a touchy product.

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