Former Novell Inc. chairman Ray Noorda, who stepped down from the company last fall, has been anything but "retiring" over the past several months. The 70-year old arch nemesis of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has quietly funded two new companies to create an alternative to Microsoft's Windows operating system.
The two companies--known as Caldera Inc. and Willows Software Inc.--are focusing on a commercial shrink-wrapped version of a new Windows-compatible operating system, and the technology underlying the software--respectively. "We're trying to give the world the first real alternative to Microsoft Windows," said a Caldera executive who asked to remain unnamed.
Caldera is readying a retail product that it hopes to be selling to consumers by the summer, at the price of $89. The product is currently code-named "Caldera Desktop."
In coming weeks, Novell is expected to announce a partnership with at least one of the companies through which it will license technology that will allow its network-centric Corsair 3-D graphical interface, and its accompanying "Ferret" information browser, to also be used by virtually all personal computers--from Mac, to Windows machines, to PowerPC devices.
Caldera and Willow, bent on providing an alternative desktop operating system environment, in effect are attempting to "legally clone Windows," say company insiders. The "Caldera Desktop," will be a full 32-bit operating system that will be able to run on all desktop computers, according to sources at the company.
Novell carefully did a legal analysis of the project early on to determine that the creation of the API would not infringe on intellectual property held by Microsoft. "We had some of the best attorneys in the industry go through that," said one Novell executive involved early on in the project. The software will act as a stand-alone desktop operating system, or as a client to the full Novell Corsair environment.
A strategy to create the interactive "information dialtone" for the 21st century--begun by former Novell chairman Ray Noorda almost two years ago--involved the new desktop operating system. However, the desktop component of the Novell strategy was broken off by Robert Frankenberg, Noorda's replacement, when the new Novell chief balked at competing with Microsoft head on, Novell insiders said.
"Frankenberg thought we should just focus on the network," said a high-ranking Novell executive. Novell is the leader in network software, with its flagship product Netware.
Last fall, Novell demonstrated the network portion of the technology, Corsair, as a new user interface for Netware. Corsair is what CEO Robert Frankenberg likes to call a "net top," a user-friendly interface for navigating around computer networks---and the Internet-- that is icon-based, uses 3-D graphics, and photographic-quality images, a more sophisticated approach than the cartoon figures in Microsoft's Bob interface, some analysts contend.
Corsair is icon-based and will appear on personal computers, Personal DigialAssistants (PDAs), set top boxes, laptops, or any devices linked to the network. Clicking on objects launches applications, including direct access to the Internet.
While Novell's Wordperfect group is developing system development kits for other software companies to quickly allow their applications to be Corsair-compatible, Noorda's Willow software is creating the desktop computer technology that will enable existing Windows applications to run on Caldera's forthcoming Windows clone.
According to Caldera executives who asked to remain unnamed, Noorda will license back this desktop software technology to Novell for use in its higher-end Corsair interface.
Former Novell executive Ransom Love was instrumental in the formation of Caldera, his colleagues say. Love currently heads up much of the Caldera effort.
"Ray's and Novell's interest in this project is we wanted to put Netware in your face, like Microsoft puts Windows in your face," Love acknowledged, declining to comment further on the company's product plans.
Corsair's "browser" component, Ferret, was developed as part of the original Corsair team. When Frankenberg took over, he decided to focus on the universal interface that will make it easy for users to access apllications and servcies across the board. The stand-alone portion of the Corsair environment was passed off to Noorda's company Caldera.
Novell is expected to move Ferret over to the Caldera technology, which will allow that software to work on all Unix, Mac and Windows platforms. Caldera is hoping to entice other software developers with the promise that using its technology will free them from dependence on Microsoft, and will mean that their Windows software will also run on Macintosh and PowerPC computers.
The Caldera desktop will also include Truetype fonts, as Windows does. It also uses the public domain Unix software known as Linux as its kernel.
About a year ago, Noorda also applied for a trademark on the term "Novell Windows," which began a heated battle behind the scenes between Novell and Microsoft attorneys.
When Frankenberg took over, in one of his first meetings with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, in an act of diplomacy, he agreed to relinquish the company's request to use the "Windows" moniker.