January 1996


Windows 95 was released in August. Five months later, there is still no version of WordPerfect specifically for Windows 95. The result of this delay: Novell reported year-end revenue of $407 million from its "personal productivity applications," a decline of $122 million.

It isn't as though software developers had to wait until August to begin writing software for Windows 95. Developers got very early releases from Microsoft, with frequent updates.


As this is written, Novell still owns WordPerfect as part of its Business Applications Division, but it has announced its intention to sell the division by the end of January.

Novell bought WordPerfect in March 1994 for stock worth $1.4 billion at that time (but only $855 million when the deal closed in June). The problem with the merger seems to have been the inability to meld the low-key culture of WordPerfect with the very different, profit-oriented culture of Novell.

Sources quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal story estimate that Novell may get anywhere from $300 million down to a mere $50 million for WordPerfect.

The WordPerfect deal was part of a strategy to broaden Novell's software offerings. Novell also bought the Quattro Pro spreadsheet from Borland and the UNIX operating system from AT&T. Earlier it had purchased DR DOS, a competitor to MS-DOS.

These acquisitions seemed to give Novell a complete arsenal of products with which to do battle with Microsoft. Novell had two server operating systems: NetWare for sharing files and printers, and UNIX for sharing applications. They had a desktop operating system: DR DOS. They had productivity applications: a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a few other products from the WordPerfect acquisition, including SoftSolutions for document management and GroupWise for e-mail.

However, even if there had been no trouble integrating the two companies, there would still have been problems with this mix of products. The claim that NetWare and UNIX were complementary (rather than competitive) products was not completely convincing. Novell sold UNIX to Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) in December.

DR DOS, never very successful, was made obsolete by Windows 95, which does not require a separate DOS as Windows 3.1 did. And Novell never bought a database program, even though Borland has two (Paradox and dBASE) and so does Microsoft (Access and FoxBASE).


Novell says it is not selling GroupWise, a "messaging system" which grew out of WordPerfect Office. WP Office contained electronic mail, a calendar, a group scheduler, a simple database (called Notebook), a calculator, and an editor for text and macros. These applications were connected by a DOS menu program that allowed switching between programs and cutting text from one program and pasting it into another one. Also, names and addresses stored in Notebook could be used in WordPerfect for mass mailings.

The most successful part of WP Office was the e-mail system for networks. A Windows version of the e-mail program came with the DOS program. The e-mail system could include gateways to link networks, so that companies with multiple locations could set up their own mail system without a third party like MCI or AT&T. A gateway can use a dial-up phone line to communicate with another location.

GroupWise is a descendant of the WP Office e-mail, calendar, and scheduler programs. It claims to support "12 client desktops, 10 server environments, and 23 gateways." In other words, you can run it on different computers and you can connect it to other mail systems.

Nevertheless, a mail system benefits from integration with the network operating system. Both systems need to know who the users are and where they are. For example, any user who logs into the network should be able to send and receive mail, even if they are not at their usual workstation on the network. It appears that GroupWise is becoming more closely connected to Novell NetWare to allow this integration. Thus it is not surprising that Novell intends to keep GroupWise when it sells WordPerfect.


Here is a quote from Open Computing, April 1995: "[M]any former DOS users would argue that what they miss most in Windows is the nimble response of DOS applications...." Indeed, one attraction of WordPerfect on the original IBM PC was its speed. Now WordPerfect for Windows on a 486 with 8 megabytes of RAM is painfully slow. The built-in drawing program is essentially unusable because it is so slow.

Can you fix the speed problem? Yes, with fast hardware: a Pentium 100 with 256K cache, 16 megabytes of RAM, enhanced IDE disk, and Windows 95. Consider this a minimum configuration for near DOS-level performance.

The 16 MB of RAM is the most important requirement for speed. Unlike a DOS program, which simply won't run if it doesn't have enough memory, Windows (on a 386 or later processor) lets a program think it has more memory than the actual RAM in the computer. This trick, called virtual memory, lets the program run, but with an enormous speed penalty.

Only time will tell whether WordPerfect for Windows 95, when it arrives, will be faster or slower than the current version. It could be faster, since 32-bit programs run faster than 16-bit programs. However, it could also be slower, because 32-bit programs are larger than 16-bit programs, and if you run out of RAM, performance declines quickly.

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