Novell is gunning to gain more ground against Microsoft Exchange with GroupWise 6.5, an update now in public beta and slated for general release in February 2003.
New features include instant messaging (IM), a new client interface, additional administrative controls, support for more mobile devices, and a standards-based back end. Down the road, Novell is eyeing integrated administration of both GroupWise and NetMail, its other e-mail product, through an integrated management portal.
Among users and analysts, the consensus is generally positive. "Novell has been doing well in groupware, anyway. But it picks up additional functionality and strength with GroupWise 6.5," contended Joyce Graff, an analyst at GartnerGroup.
"Novell has been coming up there," agreed Eliot Lanes, president of Viable Solutions, a Novell value-added reseller (VAR). Viable has been working with Novell on v6.5 since the development beta, and some of Viable's customers are public beta testers.
"GroupWise is far more stable, and a lot more robust out-of-the-box than Exchange. 6.5 is a significant upgrade. There are new features for usability, and 6.5 gives administrators more control than they've had before," said Lanes.
Lanes said Viable didn't encounter any major glitches in 6.5, during any phase of the development beta. "There's been nothing that you wouldn't expect with beta software. You say to the vendor, 'This (feature) should do this, but it doesn't.' Then you work with the vendor on a fix. In the (public) beta, I think Novell is pretty much there -- pretty much close to a final release."
At this point, though, instant messaging -- one of the main enhancements planned for the final product -- hasn't made it into the beta, Howard Tayler, GroupWise product manager at Novell, acknowledged.
"Instant messaging is still kind of in '1.0,' so it's taking a bit of time. We're hoping to put it in 6.5 during the public beta. We recognize, though, that IM connectivity is a big need for customers. So it'll definitely be in the final release. If IM ends up taking more time, we'll even delay shipment of the final product," Tayler said.
Microsoft Is the Main Target
As many observers see it, Microsoft Exchange is much more of a target for GroupWise than is Lotus Notes. "Lotus is the acknowledged leader in the enterprise space. Novell tends to compete directly more with Microsoft than with Lotus. And Novell tends to win with SMBs [small to midsize businesses], based on ROI [return on investment]," according to Graff.
University Hospital in New Mexico is one long-time GroupWise customer. "We're supporting 8,000 users with two administrators. GroupWise is pretty solid. The hardware costs for Exchange would be higher, so the infrastructure costs would be prohibitive for us," said Al Hidalgo, systems analyst at the hospital.
"Also, you leave yourself more exposed to viruses and worms if you use Microsoft products," Hildalgo charged.
Slicker Client Interface
Like previous releases, 6.5 runs on a choice of Novell NetWare or Microsoft Windows servers. Novell's NetMail, on the other hand, runs on NetWare, Linux, and Solaris servers.
"We're scoping out the idea of adding Unix and Linux support to GroupWise in the future. I can't make any promises on that, though," Tayler said. For the time being, however, GroupWise servers can be accessed through either the GroupWise client or Microsoft Outlook.
The GroupWise 6.5 client interface sports a number of new bells and whistles, including a new 'checklist' user interface, built-in contact management, and the ability to use different colors for categorizing emails.
"The added contact management is what stands out most to me. A lot of end users here have been screaming for that," University Hospital's Hidalgo said.
Novell originally planned to include the checklist user interface in GroupWise 6.0 SP3, but the vendor later decided to roll it into 6.5 instead. GroupWise 6.0 SP3 is now scheduled for release in March, Tayler said.
"The new user interface changes the whole overall look-and-feel. We didn't want to make too many changes in SP3, or we'd increase the learning curve for 6.0," said one product manager.
Also in the works is an updated Outlook plug-in. "We may have to do a patch, though," Tayler noted. When run on Windows XP against the GroupWise 6.5 server, Outlook will support POP and IMAP mail.
Groundwork for More ISV Tools
In 6.5 Novell will also start to replace its heretofore proprietary back end with an architecture based on "open standards," according to Tayler. The GroupWise message store will get MAPI accessibility.
For one thing, Novell wants to expand the availability of third-party tools. "A 'perceived disadvantage' for Novell is that we don't have as many ISV or reseller partners. People also find, though, that just about every tool you'd need for GroupWise is, in fact, already available. A standards-based back end will make it easy and faster for third-party partners to integrate their products with GroupWise," he maintained.
Junk Mail Filters
Several new layers of spam filtering are part of 6.5. The GroupWise Internet Agent will now be able to subscribe to real-time blackhole lists, which let administrators automatically block e-mail from known spammers.
Administrators will also be able to use third-party content filtering products such as GWAVA, RAV and MimeSweeper to block inbound e-mail based on criteria like attachment extensions, word triggers, and origination DNS.
Also new are client-side filtering tools, which can be implemented by end users if the administrator sees fit.
"On the client side, you can now set filters for both a block list or a junk list. If the e-mail is on the block list, you'll never see it. If it's on a junk list, it'll be set aside, and you can deal with it whenever you get a chance," Tayler explained.