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Novell Picks Sun Executive for Top Post

Technology: The move is seen as an effort to protect Novell's market share.

March 19, 1997|RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN | WASHINGTON POST

Seeking to guard its threatened dominance of the market for software that runs office computer networks, Novell Inc. on Tuesday named Sun Microsystems Inc.'s top technologist to be its chairman and chief executive.

Eric Schmidt, a key architect of the Internet's Java programming language and one of the most respected technical minds in Silicon Valley, will assume the new job April 7.

He joins a company that three years ago was widely seen as the only one big and broad enough to take on industry leader Microsoft Corp. But since then it has stumbled, analysts said, losing market share in its core network software business and failing to adapt its products rapidly for the fast-growing Internet.

Schmidt replaces Robert J. Frankenburg, who quit as Novell's chief executive in August after criticism that he wasn't reshaping the company quickly enough.

Schmidt said he decided to leave Mountain View-based Sun, one of the largest and most healthy companies in Silicon Valley, because of the potential he sees in Novell.

"I've done my due diligence and concluded there's tremendous technology inside the company and we need to get it out as fast as we can," Schmidt said in an interview.

Schmidt did not offer a detailed plan for reviving the business. But he said he intends to focus heavily on Internet-related technologies, including tools to help Novell users better find information on the global network.

Some industry watchers questioned whether Schmidt, who has never run a company, has the expertise to pilot Novell, which has 5,800 employees and $1.4 billion in sales last year.

Novell's stock rose 87.5 cents to close at $9.44 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

Long the leading supplier of software that enables computers in offices to talk to each other, Novell's flagship NetWare product has been losing ground to Microsoft's Windows NT operating system and other products.

Based in Orem, Utah, Novell has about 50% of the market for software that connects desktop computers to printers and data-storage devices. But in the fast-growing market for software to run intranets--corporate networks modeled after the Internet--the company has failed to act aggressively, analysts said.

The company also has made other missteps. In 1994, Novell spent $855 million to buy WordPerfect Corp., the maker of word-processing software by that name. But after the software failed to erode the share of Microsoft's competing products, Novell sold the division for just $124 million.

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