The NetWare 7 that never was

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My last post generated some comments lamenting where NetWare has gone. I hear ya.

I have friends and have spoken with people at BrainShare who were closer to things than I was regarding how the next version of NetWare evolved. And to be truthful, it sounded a lot like how Microsoft moved from XP to Vista. If you'll recall, "the version of Windows after XP," was something of a moving target for many years. I recall media reports of Microsoft scrapping the whole project and starting afresh at least once.

My very first BrainShare was 2001, and that was the release party for NetWare 6. It was in 2003 when Novell bought Ximian, and bought SuSE, so it is clear when Novell probably decided to bet the house on this whole Linux thing. Yet at BS01 there was talk about NW7, or if there would be a NW6.1 version out. The rumors I remember from back then had NW7 being a progression towards a more application-friendly environment. I also remember hearing the L word around once or twice.

What we actually got was NetWare 6.5, which solidified NetWare 6 and made the core services better and more mature. What it wasn't was any more application friendly than NetWare 6 was (or even NetWare 5.1 for that matter). NetWare 6.5 released in August of 2003, the same month as the Ximian purchase. This is what tells me that Novell had decided on a path for NetWare 7, and it was green, not red. Open Enterprise Server arrived in 2005, which gives OES a solid year and a half dev-time between when SuSE was bought and when we started seeing public betas of OES. The NetWare version of OES was NetWare 6.5 SP3.

What happened to NetWare 7? It got lost on the roadmap. When NW6 came out, Novell probably had 6.5 on the roadmap as the next rev, with NW7 next down. The rumors we were hearing were very provisional, as the spot on the map held by NW7 was at least 3 years away. Sometime between BrainShare 2001 and when Novell started buying its way into the Linux world NW7 was dropped and the decision was made to port to a completely different Kernel. That decision was probably made in the summer of 2003, as the NetWare 6.5 development was entering final beta, and the task of allocating developer resources for the next full rev needed to be made.

Which brings us to today. OES2 SP1 is going to drop any day now, probably in time for Novell's quarterly earnings report. SP1 finally brings the Linux-kernel 'NetWare Services' to feature-comparable with the NetWare kernel. There are still a few things missing, like an eDirectory integrated SLP server, but now all the major points are covered. If you count it up, this has taken Novell a bit over 5 years to get to this point.

In my opinion, that's about right for an organization the size of Novell. Porting over the proprietary NetWare services to completely new kernel requires a LOT of developer attention, and Novell is a lot smaller than Microsoft. Also of note, it took Microsoft 5 years to give us Vista after XP, including the presumed nuke-and-rewrite they did. Novell got a boost in that they had already ported eDirectory to Linux, so that helped out the NCP side. But that didn't help the NSS folks, who had to figure out a way to do a NetWare-style rich metadata file-system on a kernel and driver model that expects POSIX-spartan file-systems. The problems Novell had with this were amply displayed in the performance problems reported with OES1-FCS. Samba doesn't scale to the same levels as CIFS-on-NetWare did, so that meant Novell had to create their own CIFS stack from scratch. The AFP stack on Linux is a joke, and the resurgence of Apple since 2003 meant they had to do something about that as well; by making a proprietary AFP stack. All of this represents nuke-and-rebuild-from-spec, which takes time.

Novell probably should have started the migration in 2000 instead of 2003. They already knew that Exchange 5.5 upgrades were driving a LOT of customers into Active Directory, which was triggering migrations away from NetWare. But, there are business concerns here. Novell managed to survive the fall of NetWare by diversifying their product portfolio enough that GroupWise, Zen, and Identity Management could support the company. It took until this year to return to the black, but they did it. Had they shot the NetWare cash cow two years earlier, it is entirely possible that Novell couldn't have survived the lean years.

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Interesting timeline. You didn't mention one event that preceded their purchase of Ximian. In April 2003, "the father of Netware", Drew Majors, left Novell. We're lucky we got Netware 6.5 post-Drew, and it's really no wonder that Novell took a different path (Linux).