Novell versus Microsoft: A never-ending story

Novell versus Microsoft: A never-ending story?

When I read yesterday that the United States Supreme Court has decided to reopen an old Novell vs. Microsoft case dating back to 2004, I couldn’t help but think back to what has happened between the two companies in the 20 last years.

If you weren’t following the news back then, here’s what went down: Four years ago, after a long fight in court regarding Microsoft’s unfair marketing practices toward some of Novell’s more-popular products, namely Netware, Quattro Pro and WordPerfect, the 2 parties acknowledged an out-of-court settlement of $536 Million concerning Netware. Unable to reach an agreement on the remaining products, the case was put aside by the authorities and was quickly forgotten by most people.

When I started using computer in the 1980s, THE de-facto standard when it came to word processors was named Word Perfect. Not only was Word Perfect multi-platform (Dos, UNIX, Apple-DOS), it was also the most easy-to-use word processor on the market. Those of you who remember WordStar will understand what I mean.

Don’t get me wrong, when I say “most easy-to-use on the market”, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was like today’s WYSIWYG software; you had to know your shortcuts, and writing a well-structured document was similar to writing an html page in notepad. Fortunately, WP was supported by an excellent, multi-lingual tech support service from our Mormon friends in Utah.

But then, when Apple came up with a graphical user interface (GUI) for their systems, a company called Microsoft (ever heard of them?) decided to apply the same concept to all their products. Thus, Windows and WinWord were born. A few months later, WPCorp understood that GUIs were there to stay and made the same move, elaborating a new graphical version of WP for Windows, Mac, OS/2 and DOS.

Unfortunately, when the time came to install WordPerfect on Windows, things weren’t simple. Microsoft, dreaming of market dominance even then, had apparently hidden some crucial implementation details from the WPCorp developers, making the installation of WP a real pain in the behind for everyone involved. Bill Gates was immediately accused of disloyal practices, and of favoring his own office suite, which led to the consequential detriment of his competition. Even his prices were lower. Surprising, isn’t it? Try to find an office suite that is more expensive then MS Office today… I’m sure you’ll have trouble finding one.

NovellAs time passed, WPCorp eventually closed their doors and was immediately purchased by Utah-based Novell for more than $1 billion. That was in 1994. At the same time, the new owner of WP decided to purchase other products that would fit well together in a new productivity suite: Borland Quattro Pro, a spreadsheets application, and Paradox, a database system.

The result of the acquisition? A total failure. After trying to sell their new product to consumers for two years, the creators of Netware decided to sell their productivity suite to Canadian based company, Corel, for the amount of $170 million. An approximate loss of $900 million for Novell.

Since then, nothing much has really changed. Corel still owns the product, which has been re-branded as the WordPerfect Office Suite, an excellent and cheaper alternative to MS Office. But when it comes to being cheap, nothing beats Open Office though!

In fall 2004, eight years after the disastrous acquisition, Novell took Microsoft to court, accusing them of disloyal practices leading to the Word Perfect Suite’s ultimate failure. According to Novell, Microsoft had hidden important details about their OS interoperability with applications, and also took action to dissuade certain PC manufacturers from including the WordPerfect suite inside their product offering.

Concurrently, Novell was accusing Microsoft of other tactics encouraging people to abandon the Netware Server OS, making its integration with Windows clients a real nightmare. I’m sure those of you who were working in IT back then remember a campaign where Microsoft was encouraging people who were running Netware to migrate to Windows 2003 by offering them $600.

As I said previously, Microsoft admitted their fault for this and paid $536 million to Novell, but the Word Perfect case had not been settled.

This is where the story is right now: Novell says they’ve been the victim of unfair business practices; Microsoft replies that the issue was caused by bad business decisions.

Who is right, and who is wrong? What is YOUR opinion? Let us know in the comments section.

Lastly, I’d like to thank Nelson over at Technaute, whose french article was mostly used to write this one. Thanks Nelson!