Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Learn from history, or be doomed to repeat it

In an otherwise good post ("Identity management before the cloud (part one)"), Kim Cameron made what I considered a big bloomer: he equated the advent of networked PCs with the rise of Active Directory.

When I called him on it, he changed the post to include a nod towards Banyan Vines' StreetTalk and Novell's NDS as precursors of AD. Kim is an honorable man.

He also suggested I post something about those early days. So here it is.

In 1999, Banyan abandoned the Vines network system. This is what I wrote at the time.

Banyan recently announced that it would "transition out of network software" -a rather unique way of announcing that VINES, once the preeminent enterprise networking operating system, was dead.
Banyan can be considered the progenitor of all directory-based services, having introduced its StreetTalk hierarchical directory service over 15 years ago. Poorly focused marketing and bad choices in deciding which new technologies to adopt, though, allowed upstarts such as Novell and Microsoft to overtake Banyan over the past half dozen years.

An attempt to port StreetTalk to NetWare never did get off the ground, as Novell Directory Services
(NDS) quickly grew to own the lion's share of what was previously called the LAN market space. StreetTalk for Windows NT enjoyed some limited success due to Microsoft's lag in bringing directory services to the NT platform, but newer, more limber, companies - such as Entevo, Mission Control and Fastlane - quickly scooped up the business of providing directory services to NT customers.

So Banyan joins the ranks of companies who squandered technological superiority (e.g., Digital (DEC) and Wang) due to an inability to grasp the quickly changing market. And like those two, Banyan hopes to continue in business offering support and services to companies and enterprises that forsook its hardware and software offerings.

VINES, and StreetTalk, deserved a better end.
 Novell then squandered the lead they had in directory services which brought Microsoft and AD to the forefront.

I could summarize Novell's progress, but Roger White did it much better than I in his book "Surfing the High Tech Wave: A story of Novell's early years, 1980-1990" which is available on line. It's a fascinating story told, warts and all, by someone who was there. You should read it, it's as engaging as Tracy Kidder's "Soul of a new Machine," another computer industry must read.

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