Reading about the EU's investigation -- unwarranted, as I've written before -- into the Oracle-Sun putative merger and the perception that the deal might be blocked, my thoughts went back to another merger agreement that never completed. When I say 'went back', I mean way, way back - the stuff of the mists of time and the primordial soup by the standards of technology's rapid cadence. It was almost 20 years ago that Lotus and Novell called off a deal to combine. If I recall rightly it was because one of the parties got cold feet; that was a shame because if any two companies were made for each other at the start of the 1990s, it was this pair.
But what might have happened if Lotus and Novell had done a deal? Let's hazard a guess.
1990-1991: Lotus and Novell complete merger and announce a new company name, LotusNovell. The company is split into three lines: communications under the Lotus Notes brand; networking under the Novell NetWare brand; and the new brand of Novus 2000 for productivity applications (Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, Lotus Freelance Graphics slideshow, Lotus Magellan file manager and Novell 'Webtop', a hush-hush plan for 'a new kind of desktop').
1992-93: LotusNovell attempts to build 'a new kind of developer network' dubbed Kitty, planting drop-in offices with free desktop and comms for promising students. The company begins to enjoy a loyal cadre of students and others developing on Windows, Macintosh and OS/2 but also variants of Unix. A combination package lets firms buy Notes, NetWare and Novus 2000 combined and integrated at a 'three for two' premium. It succeeds brilliantly and is seen as responsible for Notes dominating the infant market for groupware, NetWare passing 90 per cent LAN server market share and for the sharp incline in sales of Novus 2000. Microsoft responds with a similarly named product, Office. Regulators begin to discuss the possibility of action against LotusNovell.
1994-95: Under the banner of a mascot of a well-fed cat, the Kitty community is becoming noticed even by the media. There is talk of it developing a new operating system and database with other software to follow. Meanwhile, with sales of OS/2 and Windows about even, a struggling Microsoft must decide which way to place its bets. It decides to pull out of OS/2 and go it alone with Windows but developer sway is held by LotusNovell and the Kitty community that now develops, from a shared code base, for the LotusNovell platform, now called Doors, and Open Kitty.
1996-98: LotusNovell buys Sun Microsystems and creates 'a new kind of company' where smart terminals are sold with networking, groupware, applications, online services and back-office applications on a per-user 'rentware' basis. Microsoft merges with IBM and with OS/2 and Windows fading, 'Big Green', as the new company is known, becomes a services concern, shortly to be joined by Oracle and known by watchers the 'Gang of Three'. Apple, almost forgotten by this point, is acquired to be LotusNovell's consumer wing while SAP is picked up in a huge deal valued at $10bn.
1999-2002: Pressured by regulators, LotusNovell cedes control of Kitty, handing a majority share of the network to the community, but continues its acquisition streak by buying content management firm Documentum and promising startup Autonomy. It immediately deploys top developers from each to create 'a new kind of search'. Bill Gates's autobiography, Information At Arm's Length, is published, a bitter tale of what could have been if it had not been for "the American disease... weak, complacent regulators".
2003-2009: LotusNovell buys Sony. Analysts talk of the 'Big Two': LotusNovellSonyAppleSAPSearcher on one side and the Kitty community on the other. However, with deep roots shared by both sides, the rivalry is friendly, particularly after LotusEtc, as it is now known, delists from all stock markets. Steve Ballmer appears for the first time on Strictly Come Dancing.