It's always sad to note the passing of an era, but that's what we need to do as Novell has finally announced its "end of life" plans for NetWare 4.
On March 1, 2004, NetWare 4.2 - the last of the NetWare 4.x versions - will enter the "maintenance" phase. All development will stop, and only so-called "critical" bugs will be fixed.
Three months later, on June 1, the operating system will enter what's called the "mature" phase. According to Novell's Life Cycle definitions, this means Novell no longer fixes any product defects. Specifically:
"No new software patches will be released for products that are in their Mature Phase. Novell stops testing products when they enter their Mature Phase. Products that have entered their Mature Phase will no longer be included in the test suites that are used by the Novell testing laboratories. This means that Novell Technical Services will help customers resolve their problems by recommending solutions and previously released patches that have worked for other customers with similar problems. If a problem cannot be fixed using these recommendations then customers should consider upgrading to the current version of the product. The Mature Phase is 12 months in length."
On June 1, 2005, NetWare 4 will forever pass into history. If all goes as planned, this should be just about the time that NetWare 7 ships. If all goes as planned.
NetWare 4 first shipped in 1993, and it was a radical departure both for Novell and for the PC LAN industry.
Former Network World columnist David Strom, then writing in PC Magazine, said about NetWare 4, "It is one of the single products that will change the way corporate networks, and the applications that run on them, will be built for the remainder of this century, and far into the next." How right, and prescient, he was. In a sidebar, Strom talked about a radically new service included with NetWare 4: "The biggest difference between NetWare 4.0 and previous versions has to do with the way servers and network resources are organized, what Novell calls NetWare Directory Service (NDS). This is a completely new way of looking at NetWare." And it started a revolution that created a completely new way to look at computing, culminating (for now) in the rush to so-called "Web services," all of which are dependent on identity data stored in a directory system.
That first version of NetWare 4 was big and clunky and unbearably slow (mounting large disk volumes could involve days, rather than hours - it's a good thing that uptime was a major focus of its designers!). Version 4.01 - then 4.1 and eventually 4.2 - all improved on the implementation of the services and even added some (such as a Web server) which barely existed when the NOS first shipped.
But the general design was firmly established over 10 years ago and that design is still evident in today's NetWare 6.5. That design was, in retrospect, the final glorious achievement of the group known as "Superset" - Drew Major, Dale Neibauer, Kyle Powell, and Mark Hurst - whose BYU classwork had laid the foundation for the original NetWare.
Microsoft at the time was still touting Windows for Workgroups while making noises about the supposed benefits of Windows NT, its soon-to-be-released effort that was an outgrowth of the joint work with IBM developing OS/2.
NetWare was head-and-shoulders above the competition. Novell was seemingly riding a huge wave of popularity and success. Those were the glory days that were - and oh, what might have been. So long, NetWare 4. You will be missed.