By Gary Flood
Novell Corp finally announced Tuesday (CI No 3,122) that it had been able at last to persuade a heavy hitter to become its leader. In the event it wasn’t bookie’s candidate Ray Lane, chief operating officer of Oracle Corp – probably because Oracle threw a golden force field of guaranteed share options around him to keep him in Redwood City. Instead, Novell snagged Sun Microsystems Inc’s chief technology officer, Eric Schmidt. Its success in persuading the 41-year old 14-year Sun Microsystems Inc veteran to move his family photos into its seven-month long vacant corner office marked ‘CEO’ is designed to send out one loud message: intranet, intranet, intranet.
Why else choose a highly respected technologist with impeccable intranet credentials – the man who more than many in Sun really tried to make its gnomic 1980s slogan ‘The network is the computer’ finally into something real, by championing the development of Java inside a company which at one time was so Web-averse it wanted to charge its developers $50 a month for using the Web? So needy is Novell as regards intranet capability that it may as well have chosen Web progenitor Tim Berners-Lee as its chief executive. Maybe it asked him. For Web cred has to be the only reason it chose Schmidt, who has never run a company, to pick it up from its slump in favor of a financial engineer (the Gerstner fix a la IBM) or asking a past luminary like former head Ray Noorda back (the Bring Steve And Woz Back fix a la Apple). Schmidt, who boasts three degrees including a Ph.D from Berkeley, and who is also a former alumnus of legendary braintrust Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, has already told The Wall St Journal his recipe for rebooting Novell when he takes up the job full time on April 7: co-existence with Microsoft Corp, especially Windows NT, which is by ill repute alone seen as driving Novell’s core network operating system NetWare out of its natural habitat. Yet plainly this is not all he intends, for that was essentially the strategy of underpowered former Novell chief executive Robert Frankenberg, who in his brief tenure before his board nuked him last August was often desperately back-pedaling the ’embrace and surround’ anti-Microsoft stance of Novell founder Ray Noorda. Frankenberg must at least be credited with divesting Novell of Noorda bonehead buys like Unix and WordPerfect and is back down to its knitting – network operating systems – its future, if it has one, is in the intranet. Frankenberg, a personally charming and diffident man but a lackluster leader, tried to come up with something to get us all excited about Novell again by misty talk of a giant super-Novell network of the future, with a billion connections by the year 2000 and smart houses where you could open your fridge door remotely via your PC on your office desk. Novell has realized that this was not going to cut it in time, and so it started banging on its intranet drum late last year. Analysts Forrester Research polled some of its Fortune 500 clients on Novell six months ago, and found that while 90% were users of NetWare, only 48% expected to still be so in three years’ time: even worse, 72% said they saw no part for Novell to play in its current or future internet plans. At that time Forrester concluded Novell’s only hope was to become a provider of intranet technology. That so many corporations are Novell clients should be no surprise – NetWare is supposed to have been licensed to 60 million users and run on a million networks – and just as unsurprising is that up until very recently Novell had no soundly theorized position on the network post-internet to offer. NetWare still hasn’t wholly embraced TCP/IP, and is still based on the older and less Internet friendly IPX protocol. But now one is meant to speak not of NetWare but its Web-enabled successor, IntraNetWare, a product which combines NetWare with network services, including integrated messaging, Internet, Web connectivity and publishing. Perhaps a better way to think of