The demise of GroupWise?

Novell announced Tuesday the open beta availability of the newest version of its e-mail and collaboration product, GroupWise. According to analysts, however, the new product is just playing catch-up to other innovations in the space, and is unlikely to win over any new customers.

Novell’s new Groupwise—codenamed Bonsai—does have its versatility going for it, said president and CTO of Novell Canada Ross Chevalier. “Our competitors tend to focus on alignment with their other products, but we are more about the freedom to choose.”

The program runs on Windows, Linux, Mac and mobile device platforms, along with having a Web-based component.

Much emphasis is placed on the dashboard component of GroupWise, which allows users to customize their workspace to show the various folders, e-mails, appointments, tasks, teams, and Web tools they want to keep tabs on. New contact management tools can pull in contacts from a variety of sources, while the calendaring feature can amalgamate appointments from different calendar applications, said Chevalier.

An element of real-time is also present in the beta. “We use presence detection to enable real-time chat,” Chevalier said, “That way, you can do a cross-platform ‘busy search.’”

These new feature might not be enough to lure in new buyers, said Info-Tech Research analyst Vince Londini. “GroupWise is not doing very well in the market. They’ve started losing market share over the last few years. There’s nothing too stunning in this beta,” he said. The mash-up functionality is a solid move, but it is similar to LotusNotes functionality that was announced in January. The document management features of Novell’s tie-in products Teaming and Conferencing are already there in LotusNotes Quicker. “It’s belated efficiency, but still pretty good efficiency. It’s not a bad product,” he said.

As IDC Canada research analyst Kevin Restivo pointed out, “It’s not a matter of product functionality—it’s a Novell business issue. People increasingly want to buy from one supplier, and so it may look easier to go with Microsoft or IBM.”

According to Londini, Novell is more playing catch-up to the more aggressive players in the space, from the big boys like Microsoft SharePoint and IBM LotusNotes, to other popular options like Xandros Scalix. Market competition just got worse, too, with Cisco’s recent acquisition of e-mail server vendor PostPass. Londini estimates that it leaves even the small 10 to 20 per cent of the market share left over by Microsoft and IBM crowded. Hence, said Londini, the company’s push to retain the customers it has. Said Londini: “The GroupWise team has put a lot of effort into this.”

(And, said Restivo, the company still has a very strong presence in the education space with its GroupWise products.)

IT managers pondering whether to upgrade or “join the rest of the world on Microsoft” shouldn’t be too hasty in joining the pack. Novell’s strategy might pay off. Londini suggests that IT managers would definitely consider what kind of license agreements they could get from Novell, and whether there is any real driver to switch over to another player. “And then you have to ask, do you have the IT skill set for it? It might even be easier to make the case to stay,” he said.

Good for Novell, and less headaches, sure, but, said Londini, keep in mind the possible future. “We never really hear clients saying, ‘I’m going to go to GroupWise!’ SharePoint is steamrolling everyone. If Novell is losing too much, it might already be near its end-of-life. Look at NetWare.”