Noorda was born in Ogden, Utah, the third son of Dutch immigrants Bertus and Alida Noorda. He was a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]. He attended Weber State College in Ogden. During World War II he served in the Navy for two years as an Electronics Technician, working with radar systems. He graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Engineering from the University of Utah in 1949. Noorda married Lewena (Tye) Taylor on August 4, 1950, and worked for General Electric from graduation until 1971, after which he worked at a number of California companies.
In 1983 Noorda assembled the SuperSet team whose members included Drew Major, Dale Niebaur, and Kyle Powell. The team was originally assigned to create a CP/M disk sharing system but instead came up with a successful file sharing system for the newly introduced IBM-compatible PC. This Network operating system was later called Novell NetWare. Noorda ran Novell until 1993.
Under Noorda's watch, Novell acquired several companies and products with the goal of countering Microsoft's rapid spread into new markets, including Digital Research, Unix System Laboratories, WordPerfect, and Borland's Quattro Pro. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates claimed that Noorda had a "tremendous vendetta" against Microsoft and had supported the Federal Trade Commission's antitrust investigations of Microsoft in the early 1990s that led to a consent decree restricting its operating system licensing practices.
Up to his death, Noorda owned the Canopy Group. One of its holdings, Caldera Systems, purchased the Unix assets in 1995 from the Santa Cruz Operation, which had acquired them from Novell. In 1996 it also acquired the Digital Research assets from Novell and immediately brought a lawsuit against Microsoft that largely duplicated the claims that the FTC and Department of Justice had pursued in the early 1990s. The lawsuit was ultimately settled in 2000 with a $275 million payment to Caldera.
Noorda received honorary doctorates from the University of Utah in 1994 and Weber State University in 1995. As a consequence of age and associated health issues (Alzheimer's disease and heart disease), Noorda did not participate in the day-to-day management of Canopy's affairs after 1998. 
Noorda had four sons and one daughter. On March 17, 2005, Val Noorda Kreidel, his daughter, committed suicide. She was 49 and left behind her husband, four daughters, and a son . Noorda died October 9, 2006, at his home in Orem, Utah, aged 82.