Ray Noorda

Pioneer of 'co-opetition'


Raymond John Noorda, businessman: born Ogden, Utah 19 June 1924; married 1950 Tye Taylor (four sons, and one daughter deceased); died Orem, Utah 9 October 2006.

The businessman Ray Noorda was credited with inventing the concept of "co-opetition", whereby companies which would normally compete with one another would also co-operate. Co-opetition was especially important to the nascent computer networking industry of the 1980s, as it allowed hardware and software from different companies to work together in a networked environment.

It was in 1983 that Noorda brought together a group of software developers under the name "SuperSet", which would later became the core of his company, Novell. Their task was to develop an operating system which would allow the newly invented IBM PC machines to be connected together in networks, enabling files and printers to be shared.

Novell's NetWare product was to become the de facto standard networking software from the late 1980s through to the mid-1990s. Noorda oversaw the growth of the company from 17 to 12,000 staff, whilst still maintaining a community spirit for his employees, whom he treated with immense respect and who, in turn, affectionately referred to him as "Uncle Ray".

During his tenure at Novell, Noorda invented the concept of the "channel" for distribution of computer hardware, software and services, which gave opportunities for large numbers of small businesses to thrive. This was in stark contrast to the previous phase of the computer industry, dominated by "one-stop shops" selling mini- computers and mainframes, such as IBM and Digital.

Noorda was also responsible for creating certification for computer industry specialists, which provided a yardstick of ability for engineers and salespeople. This innovation has since been adopted by every leading supplier of hardware and software, allowing customers to be sure of the standard of personnel employed.

The early 1990s saw Noorda and Novell challenge Microsoft, not only in networking but in the desktop operating system and applications software. To this end, Novell acquired WordPerfect and Unix System Laboratories. The challenge was ultimately unsuccessful, and Microsoft now dominates the market with its Windows software.

Noorda was born in Ogden, Utah, in 1924 to Dutch immigrants. His business acumen was evident at an early age when he appointed himself CEO of the local playground, organising baseball league teams and providing bicycle transport for his team members.

During the Second World War he served in the US Navy as an electronics technician. Later, after graduating from the University of Utah, he became an electrical engineer with General Electric, where he worked for 21 years.

Following his retirement from Novell in 1994, Noorda established the Canopy Group, a network of some 100 technology companies, mainly based in the Utah area. For the last 10 years of his life he suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Marcus Williamson

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