The only person who has earned the right to be called the “Father of Network Computing” passed away in Orem, Utah on October 9, 2006. The governor of Utah, John Huntsman, called him the Utah native and resident who launched the Utah Information Technology Sector, the fastest growing industrial sector in the state of Utah during the past few decades. Ray Noorda left a large imprint on his native Utah. He passed away in his home following a long debilitating illness, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Heart Disease.
Ray Noorda was born on June 19, 1924. He was the third son of Bertus and Alida Noorda, Dutch immigrants from the village of Landsmeer, the Netherlands. He was a life long member of the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints. He attended Weber State College in Ogden, Utah, but was not able to graduate because of the World War II interruption. During World War II he served in the Navy for two years as an electronics technician working on radar systems. Electronics clearly became his fascination and it would propel him into an electronic engineering career. Following the War he enrolled at the University of Utah, from where he earned his B. S. Degree in Engineering in 1949.
Following graduation he went to work for General Electric where he stayed until 1971. From there he went to work for a number of California electronic firms until 1982 when a business opportunity arose in his home state of Utah. A start up computer software company, called Novell, was in financial trouble and was ready to go “belly up”. Its remaining 17 employees faced a definite layoff because there was no money left to cover the payroll. Ray Noorda took over the company and largely with his own funds was able to turn the company around by refocusing its strategy to more promising computer software products. He remained with Novell until 1994, for a period of 12 years. One of the first products the new Novell focused on was the CP/M disk information sharing system as part of the operating system for IBM compatible PC computers. The system became successful and was later named Novell NetWare. The system also formed the foundation for future growth of the Novell Company. It grew from 17 employees at the time Noorda took the firm over, to over 12000 employees at its peak, during a relatively short period of time. To be sure the growth was not all internal growth. Under Noorda’s direction, Novell acquired a number of compatible companies, among which are Digital Research, Unix System Sales, WordPerfect and Borland’s Quattro Pro. Noorda’s skills were not just technical; he was a superb manager and was strong at motivating the people he worked with.
Noorda’s biggest competitor during his entire tenure at Novell was Microsoft. He felt Microsoft was unfairly competing with Novell and he is viewed by many as the driving force behind the eventual antitrust suit filed by the Federal Trade Commission against Microsoft. At the time he took over Novell, Noorda saw Microsoft as Novell’s biggest competitor and he had visions of out competing Microsoft, a vision that may have led to his own undoing. The one unfortunate acquisition Novell made was WordPerfect, a word processing system. It was in direct competition with Microsoft’s WORD processing system, and eventually lost out to Microsoft. In the early nineties Novell ran into some financial and business problems and the Novell corporate board asked Noorda to resign, which he did in 1994.
Following his departure from Novell, Noorda started his own information systems technology group and named it the Canopy Group. He went on a company buying spree with the fortune he had made from his Novell involvement. The Canopy Group acquired Caldera Systems and the Unix Assets from the Santa Cruz Corporation. The Canopy Group was quite successful. One of its windfalls was a legal suit it won against Microsoft whereby the Canopy Group was awarded $ 275 million. Noorda managed the Canopy Group until 1998 when he was forced to retire because of health problems with the onset of Alzheimer’s and heart problems.
During his career Noorda was financially quite successful. It is estimated that along the way he acquired as much as one billion dollars in assets. Following his illness, his assets were put into the Noorda Family Trust [NFT].
About a month following Noorda ’s death, the two CEO’s of the software competitors, Novell and Microsoft, met and decided to work together to make the Linux software more compatible and accessible to the clients of the software products marketed by the two firms. Noorda probably would have been pleased because it confirmed that co-opetition [see below] is in the best interest of everyone.
To this day he is revered by the computer software industry as one of the major innovators and developers of the industry. He is given credit for developing the Software Channel, the go-to-market software tool for every company at the present time. He also coined the term co-opetition, a term describing the process of competing firms working together to provide interchangeable and standardized solutions to client firms. His two alma maters honored him with honorary doctorate degrees. The University of Utah awarded him the honorary doctorate degree in 1994 and Weber State College followed suit the following year, in 1995, and also honored him with an honorary doctorate.
Ray Noorda married Lewina [Tye] Taylor in 1950. The couple had four sons and one daughter. In early October 2006, the father of network computing passed away following a long and debilitating illness.
Reminisces about Ray Noorda,http://www.rockymountainvoices.com/blog/?s=noorda (no longer available)
Ray Noorda, PCMAG Blog
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