Novell GroupWise 8 released to open beta yesterday. As a former product manager for GroupWise, I think Novell customers will be pleased with the enhancements – otherwise, I didn’t do a very good job. But, having worked on the product, let me share some insight I have on this release that might be of interest.

While Novell doesn’t spend much marketing effort to compete with IBM and Microsoft in the enterprise messaging market, Novell does continue to develop and maintain GroupWise for their established customer base. Most market estimates place Novell’s single digit enterprise messaging market share at a distant third to IBM and Microsoft. But GroupWise is a good example of how e-mail systems once entrenched, tend to stay. 

It has taken Novell a long time to deliver on GroupWise 8.  GroupWise 7 released in August 2005. However, GroupWise customers will find some nice “delighters” in this next release, as Novell spent a significant portion of its development effort on the end user experience. 

Perhaps one the most significant differentiators in this release is that Novell can now tout a complete enterprise messaging solution from the server to the desktop for Linux. Novell has been using its own Linux desktop internally for several years. As a result, there was significant pressure on the GroupWise team to bring the GroupWise Linux client up to snuff. The Linux client in GroupWise 8 is arguably one of the richest Linux e-mail clients in the market. Unfortunately for Linux aficionados, it is not open source.  For GroupWise customers, this also means a very rich Mac client, as the two clients share the same code base. 

In addition to the Linux development, GroupWise contact management, task management and calendaring have been enhanced significantly – bringing them on par (or even slightly better, depending upon your opinion) with Exchange and Notes.  

Two major pain points for GroupWise that are not fixed in this release are the weak Outlook connector and no iPhone support. 

Overall, GroupWise customers should be happy with this next version and it should help Novell to retain customers. Now Novell needs to find a large, credible partner to help them provide a robust hosted GroupWise offering or potentially watch their customer base dwindle away as SaaS e-mail solutions become more viable for enterprises.