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Novell wise to users' Linux messaging needs

The adoption of messaging and collaboration applications based on Linux may not yet be the torrential downpour advocates want it to be. But offerings from Novell, in the form of GroupWise, are quietly becoming a more than viable alternative to Microsoft Exchange. As part of an ongoing package of messaging on Linux features, recently spoke with Ted Haeger, the director of marketing at Waltham, Mass.-based Novell Inc. The wide-ranging interview touched on bringing users up to speed on the state of Linux-based messaging, the future battle with Microsoft Exchange and the concerns that Novell must overcome to make GroupWise, and other open source messaging options, a truly viable part of the enterprise.

For those who may be looking, or for those who have no idea what to expect in a messaging client from Novell, what is Novell GroupWise?
We have, of course, a complete collaboration suite in GroupWise. We were porting GroupWise across all of Linux pretty much for the first part of 2004 and finished that summer. GroupWise is not open source at this point, but it is still a rich-featured client comparable to Novell's Evolution or KMail, or any other lighter weight client on Linux theses days. A GroupWise client is a heavier client, where we're trying to support a product that is somewhat analogous to Outlook and the Evolution side of things. Novell also provides support for Netline Open-Xchange. How does that relationship work?
Netline was tied pretty closely to SuSE [Linux] before we acquired that operating system. In that time Netline had already had some significant customers in Europe that were using it, so we didn't want to yank support. We then moved Netline out of an exclusive and traditional ISV [independent software vendor] relationship, and promoted them as a partner for people looking for an open source version of the Xchange server. What NetMail focuses on is a really lightweight e-mail and calendar, working across multiple e-mail systems. Since it is a lightweight messaging and calendar system, there is no need to design for a specific client. Also, Mozilla and the Open Source Development Labs recently jumped on board so Netline doesn't come off as an entirely single company initiative. And as a server side product, NetMail recently contributed 200,000 lines of code to the Hula project. We realized that collaboration is an area where there wasn't an open source project, so Novell moved existing Novell NetMail technology into open source, and the resulting Hula project brings an open source collaboration server for messaging and calendaring. Could you give some insight on how Linux has fit into the messaging landscape over the past few months ?
There are really two companies in the market today that have taken Linux as server and collaboration quite seriously. The first is IBM, which is really huge with its workplace offering in Domino. IBM gets this market; they understand the server when it comes time to offer collaboration applications -- that the server is just a platform for applications. Novell is in a similar position with GroupWise. Well before the SuSE acquisition, Novell saw something in the fact that people were trying to clamor to get Linux over to the server. So we are quite proud and like to pat ourselves on the back in that we predicted that one correctly. What are some of the concerns that customers have when you pitch GroupWise or messaging on Linux?
When facing conversations with a new customer that we are trying to add in, they ask actually very broad questions -- some are focused on supporting workstations and taking off on Linux, while others want Linux messaging support on a Windows platform. When GroupWise 7 hits in the July time frame, we will introduce connector technology that allows Outlook to GroupWise connections on the back end. We also make it a point to mention reliability. Linux has very good record for having few restarts for applications without reboots and Windows doesn't have that. Windows 2003 has gotten better, but it's still not getting creating any smiles -- it's more like furrowed eyebrows on system administrators.

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Who is the ideal customer for a Linux-based messaging client?
Customers have lost faith in the Microsoft Windows promise on server side. A lot of customers nod their head and agree that this is because of the nature of e-mail being the lowest common denominator in file sharing, and that most intellectual property exchanged through the messaging system and often saved is the de facto file system on your servers. This means servers are the biggest intellectual property. Users don't like to have to risk having a Windows server that can easily have another vulnerability and risk having someone penetrate it and get into the Exchange system. That's the kind of thing that makes CIOs [chief information officers] paranoid; security needs make CIOs paranoid … but Linux on server platform definitely trumps Windows in security. Should a customer explore other Linux-based applications before choosing to migrate to a messaging client?
One of the first areas to look at for return on investment, reliability and savings is on the collaboration side. That is actually one of the easier things to do because you are talking about an application that doesn't need the same platform on all the servers. Support for MS Exchange 5.5 beginning to end … How are you actively pursuing these larger customers? What can a GroupWise alternative offer to entice them away from a MS upgrade?
What Novell is doing is providing a more pointed approach in how we address the market. We are looking at Exchange specifically, as 33% of its installed base still runs version 5.5. We therefore focus very much on showing potential customers the reliability and security of Linux first, as these are painful points with Microsoft Exchange. Some criticize messaging on Linux servers, noting that it has limitations in the way it offers the basics and not much else. How does Novell see things?
We would agree with that for GroupWise on a Linux desktop. You'll find that critique if you compare most of the other Linux clients as well. Really there's only one full-featured client and that's Evolution. The criticism is not correct for Linux on a server. You could have a Microsoft feature a comparative checklist with Novell and then have a firefight where we would smoke them on few features and they could do the same to me, but at end of day they do pretty much the same stuff. A final criticism is that there can be a steep learning curve when migrating from Exchange to messaging servers running on the Linux OS. What is Novell doing to address or dismiss this hurdle?
It can be steep learning curve, not because GroupWise is difficult but because when you move from any enterprise application to another, you have to change some of your thinking. We had company in Fargo that migrated from 5.5 to GroupWise. Their IT manager and administrators were actually happier with GroupWise than with Exchange before the start. They made the right decision to have technical training. They also found that GroupWise administration is one of Novell's strong points. Long before Exchange's enterprise directory, we integrated GroupWise with group directory, and because of that, as soon as a customer had the system streamlined, it is really an easy system to administer. You do have to put in the training for people to do that, but on the flip side, eventually it will offset the cost.

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