Microsoft has many, many enemies. Today, Microsoft is threatened on the Internet front by Google, on smartphones by Apple, on developer tools by IBM Rational, on databases by Oracle, and on game platforms by Sony and Nintendo.

Yet the earliest Undesirable No. 1 was Novell. Since the early 1980s, the NetWare platform defined small-business local area networks. The server operating systems were ubiquitous and reliable, but also expensive, difficult to create apps for, and required most businesses to use resellers and consultants to manage their LANs.

Microsoft saw an opportunity to offer a simpler solution, and Windows NT Server ate Novell’s lunch. Sure, Windows NT Server was less efficient and less stable than NetWare, but small businesses could manage Windows NT themselves (and that was huge) and could write their own server-side applications (which was also huge).

Write a Windows application or develop an NLM? Work with a NetWare reseller or buy Windows off the shelf? Use Netware’s IPX/SPX or use a network that spokes TCP/IP? Bye-bye, NetWare.

Since its long-ago NetWare-centric glory days, Novell has become a hodgepodge of technologies. It bought Unix Systems Laboratories and sold part of it to SCO. It developed GroupWise, an e-mail platform that always seemed to have great promise, but which never could get a foothold and was pummeled by Microsoft’s Exchange and IBM’s Lotus Notes. Novell also created Novell Directory Services, but that was taken down by Microsoft’s Active Directory. The company bought WordPerfect and created an office suite, but nobody even noticed.

Where Novell has excelled lately is with Linux, thanks to its purchase of SUSE in 2003. But jumping into Linux also put Novell squarely in Microsoft’s crosshairs yet again, as during that time Linux was beginning to make serious inroads against Windows Server, particularly for Web servers. The enterprise-class SUSE Linux was a much bigger threat to Windows Server than Red Hat or other Linux distros.

Now we learn that Novell is being purchased by Attachmate, best known for its mainframe terminal emulators and host integration systems. Okay, I’ll admit: I didn’t see that coming. Last week, if you’d asked me to name 25 potential acquirers of Novell, Attachmate wouldn’t be on that list. Heck, if I’d written a list of 250 likely buyers, Attachmate wouldn’t have made that list either.

Microsoft is simultaneously buying intellectual property from Novell. The 8-K investment notification paperwork filed by Novell on Nov. 21 said,