GroupWise 6.5 Beta: Novell’s Challenge to MS Exchange

Novell wants to gain more ground against Microsoft Exchange with GroupWise
6.5, an update now in public beta and slated for general release in
February. 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 VAR (value-added reseller). Viable has been working
with Novell on 6.5 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,” according to 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, acknowledged
Howard Tayler, GroupWise product manager at Novell.

“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’s 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 mid-sized
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

As in 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.
Meanwhile, 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,” according to University
Hospital’s Hidalgo.

Novell originally planned to include the checklist user interface in
GroupWise 6.0 SP3, but 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,” according to the 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

Also in 6.5, Novell will 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

6.5 also features several new layers of spam filtering. 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.

Instant messaging

“Instant messaging is not the most important new feature in GroupWise 6.5.
But it does give Novell parity with Lotus Sametime. Exchange has IM, too.
Microsoft’s IM is OK —– but only OK,” said GartnerGroup’s Graff.

“Novell’s IM is very good for internal environments, where you want to keep
messaging secure. Some customers, though, may opt instead for some of the
many other IM tools that are also on the market,” she added.

Tayler claimed that the addition of IM to GroupWise was not influenced by
recent introductions of enterprise IM products by players ranging from AOL
and Yahoo to Sprint.

“We’ve had IM on the table since a year ago,” Tayler said. “Administrators
are getting increasingly sensitive to who’s talking to whom.”

Novell’s IM implementation will comply with SIP/SIMPLE. “It won’t work
straight out of the box with AOL or ICQ instant messaging,” he admitted.
“Our ultimate goal, though, is to provide connectivity (with other IM
environments) at the gateway level.

In its first iteration, Novell’s IM will come with logging and archiving
tools, as well as policy-based management of the user contact list.
Administrators will be able to control which groups can chat with which
other groups. “For example, I might not want to give Novell’s PM (product
management) team the ability to chat with R&D (research and development),
to keep PM from bothering R&D,” he quipped.

Novell’s IM will also capture transcripts of every IM chat, and archive
the sessions as searchable text. “We don’t have a content management tool,
though, that would sit on top and monitor live sessions by keyword, or

Hidalgo said that University Hospital plans to use Novell’s IM behind its
firewall when the feature becomes available.

“Some of our end users have been doing IM with other products – chatting
with an uncle in Timbuktu over MSN, or whatever. But this will be the first
time we’ve standardized on an IM platform,” Hidalgo elaborated. “Because of
HIPAA, we need to make sure that IM information is secure.”

Built-in tools for user moves and changes

Other new tools are geared to the need to streamline user moves and changes
in the face of server consolidation, Tayler said.

A new User Move Status utility lets administrators track the status of
accounts being moved between post offices. The utility can be configured
to filter status tracking information by domain.

Account Recovery, another new administration offering, is for recovering
accounts that have been inadvertently deleted. After the account has been
recovered, a Backup/Restore utility can be used to restore the contents of
the mailbox from backup.

GroupWise 6.5 is also able to alert administrators if a user tries to use
an address that’s already been assigned to someone else.

In yet another enhancement, administrators using GroupWise Monitor can now
divide GroupWise agents into logical groups for monitoring, and set
thresholds and options by group. For instance, you might place all agents
running on machines in the US in a special group. “In the past, you could
only look at all the agents at once,” Tayler pointed out.

New, too, is LDAP pooling. In the interests of scalability, administrators
can now instruct the post office agent to use a pool of LDAP servers –
instead of a single LDAP server – for LDAP user authentication.

Mobile connectivity

“GroupWise 6.5 connects with a broad range of devices for customers,”
according to GarterGroup’s Graff. Specifically, Novell partner Nexic will
produce GroupWise-specific clients for PalmOS and PocketPC. RIM device
connectivity will be available through Jama and Consilient. Toffa will
provide a gateway for synching up Synch ML devices such as Nokia and
Ericsson phones with GroupWise.

Further into the future

Tayler views the new user interface for GroupWise client as a major coup.
“Novell really needed to do this sooner. Now, nobody can carp that the
Novell client hasn’t been updated since 1995. We’ll probably update the
user interface again by 2003,” he predicted.

This summer, Novell plans to add to 6.5’s functionality with SP1, a service
pack that will include extensions for the Calendar Access Program (CAP)
industry standard. “GroupWise users will be able to find each other’s free
and busy hours.”

By about 2004, the company expects to pull iFolders, iPrint, and other
management functionality from Console One, and move this into Novell
Portal. The portal will also provide common management of both GroupWise
and NetMail.

“The management tools will be more contextual, with realtime content
pulldown. You’ll be able to see the status of agents in realtime, and to
pull the latest patches into the portal immediately,” according to Tayler.


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Jacqueline Emigh

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