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Sales and Trade Shows

The Dream Starts to Come True

Although development was proceeding apace on the new software and hardware offerings, most of these products were not available for shipping during fiscal 1985. Yet the company managed to triple its income, from $11 million in 1984 to $33 million in 1985, on sales of products developed in 1983 and 1984. Where the company was shipping about $900,000 worth of product a month as of June 1984, by September 1985 over $4.2 million per month was shipping.

The number of installations also tripled in 1985, from less than 9,000 to an estimated 30,000 by year end. In a Spring 1986 LAN Times article by Maxilyn Capell, Marlowe Ashton (Ray’s executive assistant) calculated Novell’s total number of nodes or users at about 200,000. This used a figure from Future Computing magazine, which estimated 6 users per LAN.

Comdex 86: Novell Becomes a “Two-Story Booth” Company

After the Milestone II celebration in New York (covered in Chapter Six), Novell geared up for the fall Comdex 86 in Las Vegas. The Comdex 86 show was memorable to Roger because Novell had become a “two-story booth” company.

Trade shows have always been exciting for me. They are the “county fairs” of industry where people gather to socialize and strut their stuff.

I remember in 1979 first gazing down on the Consumer Electronic Show from the wide stairs leading from the North Hall to the East Hall. The sight took my breath away; I don’t know how long I stood there. The East Hall itself enclosed a space larger than anything I’d seen since visiting the GE turbine plant in Schenectady as a teenager, and it was filled from end to end with the outlandish architecture of trade show booths—visually screaming at me to come explore the exotic delights they held. There were pennants, balloons, and giant signs everywhere. The Japanese electronic giants had built massive fortresses of wood panels and chromed plastic fifty feet on a side. RCA had a giant pyramid filled with TVs. Someone else had a forty-foot tall inflated animal.

The effect was a visual smorgasbord more stimulating and more immediate than any I’ve seen anywhere else. Art museums, great buildings, natural wonders. They all seemed restrained compared to what I saw there.

“Here is an architect’s delight,” I mused. “These designs are purely for show. There’s a lot of money available. And they aren’t permanent so the building codes they are constrained by must be minimal.”

Most impressive of all were the two story–high booths. On top of those booths, inside this cavernous space, you would see people gazing out high above the churning crowds. I envied those booths and wondered if I ever would be part of a company so prosperous and so image-oriented that it would sport a two-story booth.

In 1986 at Comdex I smiled quietly when I remembered that moment. Novell, the company that had struggled even to attend Comdex in 1982, the company I was part of once again, was sporting a two-story booth.

At Fall Comdex 86 Novell was finally gaining enough notoriety to be respectable. The open systems strategy Craig had been pursuing for three years was moving into high gear. Players of all sizes were getting interested. Where in 1983 Craig had been interesting to niche firms such as Ryan/McFarland, Micro Focus, and SoftCraft, he was now negotiating with the mainstream corporations of the day: Ashton-Tate, Oracle, and IBM.

Craig was presenting to these companies the concept of providing open standards, as Novell had done, so that the LAN industry could grow. Novell in turn would support those standards.

The Tale of the Missing Press Conference

Craig’s goal was to promote the open systems approach beyond Novell’s walls. He felt that Novell was not the only company that would benefit from pursuing an open systems approach. Two of the companies with top management receptive to Craig’s ideas were Action Technologies and Ashton-Tate.

Craig envisioned Action becoming the “Microsoft of e-mail transport systems”. As explained above (p. 151), he wanted to see Action enhance their The Coordinator “postman engine” and pull it loose from the “front end” so that many different companies could use it. The alternative was to wait for X.400 and X.500 standards to be thrashed out and developed. Craig saw this as taking a long time and producing a product too complex and too expensive to be well-suited to a LAN market primarily using PC-compatible workstations attached to PC-compatible file servers. He wanted something simpler and sooner and he felt that Action’s postman engine could be the starting point for that.

In Ashton-Tate Craig saw a “Microsoft of database engines” and the timing was perfect. Ashton-Tate was about to announce their support of the new SQL standard for database engine commands. This language had originated in the IBM mainframe world a few years earlier and in 1986 it was about to migrate down to the personal computer world. Novell was interested.

Database engines were a vital tool needed to allow LAN applications to migrate from being essentially single-user to becoming multi-user in the form that minicomputer and mainframe applications are multi-user. Novell had bought SoftCraft for their expertise in dealing with database engines. But if Novell was to be true to the spirit of open systems then Novell had to work with many database engines, not just one.

Craig talked to Ed Esber, President of Ashton-Tate, about his open systems ideas. He offered a deal: Novell would support Ashton-Tate’s SQL product if Ashton-Tate would publish the details of the command language so that third parties could also use it. This would save the world from having to bear with each SQL developer developing his or her own command set. Ed agreed and a press conference was scheduled for Comdex 86.

Then began yet another of those little non-linearities that was to lead to a major change in the course of an industry—as the fluttering of a butterfly wing is said to precipitate a hurricane on another continent.

The final negotiations took place between Ray and Ed in Ed’s office. As they concluded the afternoon before the joint press conference was to be held, Ed was called out of the office and Ray was there alone. The phone rang and Ray answered it. It was a writer for one of the trade publications trying to reach Ed. He was surprised when Ray unthinkingly answered the phone. He thought this tidbit was interesting enough that he mentioned it on a subsequent call that afternoon to Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft, then as now based in Redmond, Washington.

Bill thought this was interesting enough to investigate too, and in a few hours he had tracked down what the meeting was about. At two o’clock in the morning before the press conference, he called Ed in his hotel room at Comdex to remind him who Ashton-Tate was licensing SQL Server from: Sybase, a company that Microsoft had just purchased—and that if Ed wanted to hear from Bill’s lawyers, he should go ahead and announce that he was offering other companies the command language he was licensing from a Microsoft subsidiary. The press announcement was called off with no explanation and SQL server commands have remained fragmented ever since.

Other than the mystery of an announcement that was called off, Comdex once again went smoothly and Novell continued to gain in notoriety. But now Ray had one more reason to pursue the “that person from Redmond” thinking that would shape Novell strategy in the early ’90s.

The State of Play

By 1986 the groundwork had been laid for the next couple of years of Novell effort. Novell would become a stack company and Novell would promote NetWare Everywhere as both a distribution slogan and as a tool for communicating between PCs, various minicomputer protocols, and open system software.

It was Novell’s success in pursuing these visions that drove it to become 70% of the installed LAN base in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The late ’80s were all The Year of the LAN for Novell.

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