GroupWise 6.5 Beta: Novell's Challenge to MS Exchange

by Jacqueline Emigh

Groupwise 6.5 Beta is playing to good reviews among analysts and administrators. Jacqueline Emigh reports on the highlights, including enhanced administrative controls and junk-mail filtering.

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 something."

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.

» See All Articles by Columnist Jacqueline Emigh

This article was originally published on Monday Dec 9th 2002