Remembering Novell's Ray Noorda

Colleagues, friends and employees commemorate the life of 'Uncle Ray’

Ray Noorda, who became known as the "father of network computing" for building Novell into a dominant LAN company in the 1980s and 1990s, is being remembered the day after his death as one of the industry's fiercest competitors and humblest contributors.

"When I think of Ray, I think of the ultimate competitor," says Darl McBride, CEO of The SCO Group, a company embroiled in litigation with IBM and Novell over the origins of Linux. "The reason he would cooperate was so that he could compete better. It was 90 percent competing and the 10 percent cooperating that would help companies and industries compete better."

Bryan Sparks, former CEO and co-founder of Caldera (which later became SCO Group), says Noorda never feared taking risks and saw them as just being part of business.

"Ray would start work early and end work late so he could see who was there. If no one was at the front desk and the phone would ring, he would answer it," says Sparks, who worked with Noorda on a skunkworks project on the Linux desktop.

Noorda, who died at the age of 82 due to complications from Alzheimer's disease at home in Utah, was raised by Dutch immigrants in Utah during the Great Depression. His early work experience -- setting pins in a bowling alley, picking cherries and herding sheep -- instilled in him a strong work ethic and a desire to provide jobs for people. After graduating from the University of Utah with a degree in electrical engineering, Noorda worked at General Electric and developed a knack for turning ailing companies around. Among the companies he helped were General Automation, Boschert and Systems Industries.

'Uncle Ray,' as Noorda was called by Novell's employees, joined the company as president and CEO in 1983, at the behest of Jack Messman, a founder of Novell Data Systems and until recently its CEO, chairman and president. Back when Noorda joined the company, Novell had 17 employees and a network operating system to sell. Noorda grew the company to 12,000 employees and its NetWare software was credited with more than 70 percent market share in the 1990s. Noorda continued as the company's chief until his retirement in 1995.

During his time with Novell, Noorda also coined the term 'coopetition' -- alliances among technology competitors that develop common standards to grow the overall market for their products.

Noorda is also credited with developing a tiered distribution channel for Novell's products and for the implementation of certification programs for Novell users.

"Ray's weak points were in technology and vision about technology," says Craig Burton, a Novell founder and former executive vice president of corporate marketing at the company. "But he was smart enough to know where to go get it."

If anything, Noorda will be remembered for his business acumen.

"He was always forcing competition," says SCO Group's McBride. "When people think about the saying, 'Lead, follow or get out of the way,' there was no question which camp he was in. He was always leading."

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