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The Relationship Between SuperSet and Novell

About the same time their old friend Richard arrived at Novell, SuperSet’s role as guardian of the NetWare code began to change. As the product line was expanded in 1985 to include electronic mail, gateways, and other features peripheral to NetWare, the company hired outside firms or set up separate in-house engineering units to develop these add-ons. Eventually, as SuperSet focused its attention on developing new versions of NetWare—such as SFT NetWare 286, which began development in November 1984—sorcerer’s apprentices were brought in to take over responsibility for certain parts of the code from the SuperSet wizards.

As Dale described it in 1990:

There was a substantial change in the ownership [of NetWare]. Most of the utilities that ran on the workstations were pulled out of SuperSet. Until that time, we were doing almost all of it. We gave away all of those things like archive servers, communications servers, all of that stuff basically moved out when Richard King came.

And so we concentrated on a much smaller set of codes. When a piece of code gets to the point where we need to get rid of it or want to get rid of it, or Novell wants to lighten our burden and focus us on something else, then typically they will nominate a sorcerer’s apprentice who will come and work under us for as long as it takes for them to become comfortable with the code. And that’s still what happens.

Early sorcerer’s apprentices were Howard Davis and Kevin Kingdon, both of whom picked up chunks of the NetWare operating system. NetBIOS-related code and all of the LAN card drivers were also handed off in the 1985 period.

Different parts of the code were given away at different times from 1985 onward.

Early in 1987, development began on “Portable NetWare” a version of NetWare that could be “ported” to a host of different operating systems, such as UNIX. Introduced in February 1989, Portable NetWare could run on various minicomputer systems, effectively marrying the PC LAN world and the minicomputer world. In 1987, SuperSet turned over the keys to the NetWare kingdom to the Portable NetWare development team. In that 1990 interview, Dale recalled:

There was a really big convocation of wizards, and a big gift when Portable NetWare was set up. When Portable NetWare was set up, for the first time Novell set up an entire SWAT team of programmers to come in and learn how the entire operating system worked. And at that point, Drew and Kyle and I gave away the understanding for the entire operating system of NetWare itself. And that team took that understanding and then went out and made Portable NetWare so it would work like the existing NetWare.

Then that was the cloning of the whole understanding of architecture, the philosophy, the code of the operating system, when that project spun off. Then Novell took some of the people out of that, then cross-fertilized back into the engineering group and took over NetWare 286. So that SuperSet no longer deals with NetWare 286 at all.

It’s now to the point where it’s a stable, mature product handled by other engineers. And a lot of new development is handled by Novell engineers who are not SuperSet.

Right now, what goes on inside SuperSet is mostly new operating systems work. NetWare 386 is a prime example of that project over the last couple of years. And also new communications technology, beyond TCP/IP.

For a long time, NetWare had been our toy. We got to call all the technical shots. And that had to quit happening. It just doesn’t work over the long haul when the company gets big. The guys who are making the products cannot also be the guys who are doing all the specifying on the product, because either one is a full-time job.

As Novell grew, SuperSet also began to lose touch with the business aspects of Novell. Some of them missed that small company feeling. As Dale said:

We were no longer writing the sales materials and making some calls on customers and getting the weekly reports on what shipments had been made and having our finger in all of the hardware and everything else like we had done for years. That was a lot of fun. You know what’s going on instantly in all areas of the company. And so when you lose touch with some of those things, it’s kind of sad.

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