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Tuesday, December 1, 2020
 

Who Really Founded Novell?

General
Author: Mark Dixon
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
7:57 pm

No, Novell wasn’t founded by Ray Noorda.

Dennis Fairclough hired me as a junior engineer at Eyring Research Institute in April, 1977, just after my junior year at BYU. Dennis had returned to Utah to study for his PhD after working for a few years in Silicon Valley. We met while working as lab assistants in BYU’s Electrical Engineering department.

Dennis had a vision of using small computers networked together to perform big computing tasks. Eyring Research Institute had some government contracts from Hill Air Force Base that provided a sandbox for his ideas. Under his tutelage, some of us young EE and CS kids built the “ERI 1” computer using Texas Instruments 9900 16-bit microprocessors and “huge” 5 mbyte hard drives that were as big as a suitcase. Someplace in my stack of old photos I have a shot of the cardboard mockup I made of a chassis to house that computer.

Using that foundation, I built a color graphics display system to plot missile trajectories for a Minuteman Missile simulation system. It was very rudimentary by today’s standards, but the brass at Hill Air Force Base liked the flashing colors, and I got a modicum of notoriety for the project.

After my senior year at BYU, Dennis gave me a full-time offer to work at Eyring. However, he left Eyring only days after I had accepted his offer and turned down offers from HP, Burroughs and Fluke Technologies.

Despite my fondness for Dennis, I stayed with Eyring as he took his ideas to a couple of other small startups. Then came Novell.

Dennis and a few others secured a bit of funding to renew his quest. Novell would deliver a computer system with Z-80 clients running CPM and a hard drive server based on the Motorola 68000 processor. Dennis asked me to join his engineering team, but I declined because of the unknowns surrounding the little startup. Did I make a mistake? Who knows?

I remember the first time I saw the demo – in a little office just off the I-15 freeway in Orem, Utah. Kyle Powell had worked briefly for Eyring, but was now part of the Superset Group, three consultants Novell hired to write the software to make the little computers communicate. Novell didn’t have the cash to pay Kyle and his cohorts, so they received Novell stock. Little did they know how valuable that transaction would prove to be! Kyle invited us over to see the amazing things that could be done with networked computers — and to play a networked computer game they devised.

Well, the rest, as they say, is history. Novell failed as a hardware company. Ray Noorda arrived in 1983, I think, to lead the company to prominence. Dennis is now a professor of Computer Science at Utah Valley State College, and I’m an Identity Management guy in Arizona. We haven’t talked in years. But I’ll always be indebted to the real founder of Novell for giving me an early chance in my career and providing some great stories to tell.

Tags: Novell



 

2 Responses to “Who Really Founded Novell?”

    On the off chance that you haven’t come across it, you might want to spend some time reading Roger White’s “Surfing a High Tech Wave:
    A story of Novell’s early years – 1980-1990” on-line at: http://whiteworld.com/novstory/surf00.htm

    Comment by David A. Kearns on January 19, 2006 at 8:41 am

    Dave:

    Thanks for the link. I hadn’t read it.

    There were many details I didn’t know. My myopic view included one small part of the proverbial elephant.

    Mark

    Comment by Mark Dixon on January 19, 2006 at 10:49 am

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