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Ray Noorda, 82; Novell Inc. Leader Fought Microsoft

October 10, 2006|From the Associated Press

Ray Noorda, a leader of Novell Inc. who battled Microsoft Corp. in the early years of network computers, died Monday of complications of Alzheimer's disease. He was 82.

Noorda died at his home in Orem, Utah, a statement from family members said.

He became chief executive of Novell in 1983 and made it a software powerhouse, dominating the market for products that manage corporate networks and let individual computers share files and printers. But Microsoft caught up by the mid-1990s.

Noorda, whom Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates once called the "grumpy grandfather" of technology, was bitter over Novell's failure to check Microsoft's power. He tried branching out in the early 1990s by investing in the Unix operating system, the WordPerfect word processor and other products to compete with dominant Microsoft products.

But those efforts failed, and the Novell company went into a decline from which it has yet to fully recover. Noorda retired from Novell in 1995 to open the Canopy Group, which invests in start-up companies.

In the mid-1990s, Caldera Inc., another firm that he started after leaving Novell, filed one of the first antitrust cases against Microsoft, accusing the company of using unfair business practices to squelch competition by making its software appear to be incompatible with rival operating systems, among other tactics. Microsoft settled for an undisclosed sum in 2000.

"Ray was one of the innovators of the Utah Miracle," Gov. Jon Huntsman said. "He launched what would become Utah's technology sector. He has left behind a monumental legacy, and we are all in his debt."

Michael Dell, chairman of Dell Inc., and Kevin Rollins, Dell's president and chief executive, issued a joint statement that praised Noorda as a pioneer of the computer age.

"He helped drive the extension of the PC by building a successful file-sharing system ... that is now the de facto standard in local area networks," they said.

Noorda was born June 19, 1924, in Ogden, Utah, the third son of Dutch immigrants. He attended Weber State College -- now a university -- in Ogden, but left to join the Navy during World War II. He earned an engineering degree from the University of Utah in 1949 and later received honorary degrees from both schools.

Noorda worked for General Electric Co. for 21 years, where he had a reputation for innovation. He subsequently worked for a succession of electronics companies in California before returning to Utah, where he turned a bankrupt Novell Data Systems into Novell Inc.

Family members said Noorda was motivated by memories of his Depression-era childhood to create as many jobs as he could support. Novell, which had 17 employees when Noorda arrived, eventually grew to 12,000.

More recently, Novell has turned to developing software for the open-source Linux operating system, trimmed jobs and moved headquarters to Waltham, Mass.

Noorda is survived by his wife of 56 years, Tye; four sons; a sister; 13 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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