Users complain Novell not responding to needs

Novell Inc.’s problems may run deeper than the weak financial results that pushed the software vendor to announce a 16 per cent cut in its workforce this morning. Several Novell users today said the company hasn’t been responsive to their needs – and they added that they might abandon NetWare if Novell doesn’t shape up.

Intermountain Gas Co. has 600 NetWare users and wanted to use Novell’s GroupWise software as a core piece of a new customer relationship management system, said Fred Leakeas, information systems operations manager at the utility in Boise, Idaho.

In the end, though, Novell “gave us some lip service but it went nowhere,” Leakeas said. “They never called back.” He added that he hasn’t seen a Novell sales representative in 12 months.

Other users at small and midsize companies tell similar stories. “The last time we heard from Novell was when we had a problem,” said Chris Miller, manager of information technology and telecommunications at National Beef Packing Co. in Liberal, Kansas. “Nobody calls, nobody comes by – they sell their product and they’re gone. And even getting support is like pulling teeth.”

Miller, who supports about 400 users in three locations, said he used to pay for “gold” level support from Novell but dropped the contract because he felt he wasn’t getting good enough service. Miller said National Beef is considering moving off NetWare. “We did a preliminary study that says that Windows 2000 or NT would be considerably cheaper,” he said.

“We haven’t gotten any calls [from Novell] in a long time,” echoed Cathi Goncalves, manager of information systems at Pennfield Corp. in Lancaster, Penn. Like many other Novell users, Goncalves is running older versions of the company’s software, including NetWare 3 and NetWare 4.1.

She said the company’s financial woes may make her decide to abandon the platform altogether. “We were thinking of upgrading to the latest version of NetWare and budgeting some money for that,” Goncalves said. But now Pennfield plans “to wait and see what happens [to Novell] before investing any more money,” she added.

A Novell spokeswoman said she couldn’t comment on the experiences of the individual users. But she added that Novell is very committed to its customers. “If there’s anything we are focused on today, it’s on supporting our customers,” she said.

The user complaints come in the wake of the layoff announcement, under which Novell plans to cut 900 of its 5,500 workers in an effort to reduce expenses. The move came three weeks after Novell reported fiscal third-quarter financial results that were significantly down from last year’s levels (see story).

Leakeas, for one, said he’s not likely to abandon NetWare, which he believes is a superior product compared with other network operating systems. But Novell does “need to do something pretty quick,” he added. “They have a leadership problem.”

Some users said they have had better experiences with Novell’s internal sales force. “I have an excellent rep,” said Bill Raper, vice president and CIO at Sunshine Mortgage Corp. in Smyrna, Georgia. But Raper noted that when he needed a NetWare expert for some contract work, Novell couldn’t supply one in time and he was forced to look elsewhere.

Joe Clabby, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston, said Novell’s financial woes might have discouraged its sales force. He added that Novell’s major failing has been its unsuccessful attempts to turn NetWare into an application server. “People will follow applications, and that leaves NetWare in the dust,” Clabby said.