With wireless communications now reaching the mainstream, it should come as no surprise that software companies are rushing to produce wireless-compatible gateways and plug-ins for their messaging systems.
Novell’s offering, GroupWise Wireless 1.1, provides the ability to access a GroupWise mailbox through a selection of Internet-ready cellular devices that use a Handheld Device Markup Language (HDML) compliant microbrowser. The service is provided in conjunction with some of the biggest names in the telecom industry, including AT&T, Nextel, Sprint, and Verizon. Wireless access to GroupWise fits nicely into Novell’s overall One Net strategy, the basis of which is to provide any-time, any-way access to systems regardless of platform or connection method.
|HDML and WML
Handheld Device Markup Language (HDML) is a language, similar in concept to HTML, that is used to display simple content on small screens such as those found in handheld devices. Originally developed by Unwired Planet Inc., (which has since been renamed Phone.com Inc.), of Redwood City, Calif., the specification of HDML was submitted to the World Wide Web Consortium in 1997, although it did not make it into a full specification. Unlike its cousin, Wireless Markup Language (WML), HDML is not XML-based, and so it does not represent as many opportunities for programmers to develop applications.
Like HDML, WML is an HTML-like markup language for wireless devices. The difference between WML and HTML is that WML is based on XML, which makes it relatively easy to use to develop applications. The WML standard is actually based on that of HDML.
GroupWise Wireless provides a wide range of capabilities, the practical use of which will be limited only by the input capabilities of the device used to connect to the system. As with all wireless systems, reading an e-mail message is one thing, but typing a reply is another proposition entirely.
Using the microbrowser, GroupWise users can open and reply to e-mail, accept appointments, use the GroupWise address book to initiate e-mail and phone calls, and even search for and view information on documents stored in the GroupWise document management system. In fact, almost every frequently performed task is possible, although some are limited in usefulness by the small screen interface.
GroupWise Wireless leverages the WebAccess gateway to provide connectivity to the GroupWise system. (The WebAccess gateway is a NetWare, Unix, or Windows NT Web server-based system that provides browser access to a GroupWise system from the Internet or an intranet.)
With their wireless device in data mode, users simply type the URL of the GroupWise WebAccess server on their system, and the GroupWise Wireless gateway takes over from there. By using the WebAccess gateway, some of the initial concerns that companies have when considering new products are eliminated: Companies that already use WebAccess will need little or no additional hardware.
Novell is certainly wasting no time in developing and improving the wireless product. Version 1.1 was released in September 2000, and no sooner had people started trying it than Version 1.2 was announced. The new version, currently available in public beta and downloadable from Novell’s Web site, offers a number of additional features including support for more devices. This additional support is provided through Web Markup Language (WML) compatibility, a wireless standard more common outside of North America. Also to be announced soon is a GroupWise Wireless client for the Palm platform.
The rapidity of Wireless’s development might seem to suggest that Novell jumped the gun to get on the wireless bandwagon, but this is not the case. Sources at Novell say that the wireless component was to form part of the new BulletProof release, but the code was finished ahead of time and so was released independently.
As far as costs go, there is some good and some not-so-good news. The good news is that GroupWise Wireless is free. The not-so-good news is that, in order to use it, you must have the GroupWise Enhancement Pack deployed. The Enhancement Pack costs $20 per user, although it may be less expensive under certain Novell volume license agreements. If you find some of the new functions provided by the Enhancement Pack valuable–such as the browser-based system monitoring or the paging facilities–then it might be worth the extra investment. Otherwise, it can be quite an expensive purchase if your GroupWise system has a large number of users.
With the next version of GroupWise looming large, those with a hankering for a more integrated solution should wait and see what wireless functionalities the new release provides. It’s reasonable to expect that the new version of the WebAccess gateway will provide wireless functionality without the need for additional software. Unfortunately, those eager to get a look at the newest release of GroupWise will have to wait a little longer–Novell has bumped the expected release date from the end of 2000 to the first quarter of 2001.
With a reasonable range of supported devices, GroupWise Wireless is sure to be attractive to organizations that already have a GroupWise infrastructure, if only as a testing platform for future wireless projects. //
Drew Bird (MCT, MCNI) is a freelance instructor and technical writer. He has been working in the IT industry for 12 years and currently lives in Kelowna, B.C., Canada. You can e-mail Drew at email@example.com.