Novell challenges Microsoft, IBM with new NOWS collaboration suite

Despite its well known interoperability deal with Microsoft, Novell still sees Redmond as the big competitor to catch in the groupware, collaboration, and messaging arenas, where the SuSE Linux distributor has just released the new, multiplatform Novell Open Workgroup Suite (NOWS) with Novell Teaming.

"Our agreement with Microsoft is about interoperability only. When we signed it, we didn't say we'd never compete with Microsoft on anything," said Richard Lindstedt, senior product marketing manager at Novell, in an interview with BetaNews.

Lindstedt acknowledged that Microsoft owns the vast bulk of the collaboration software market thanks to Exchange and Office Communications Server, But beyond being purchased by long-time Novell customers, Novell's new software bundle is luring some customers away from Microsoft who are disenchanted with Microsoft's Windows-only environment and higher cost of ownership, according to the Novell exec.

Novell's new NOWS with Teaming bundle is available for both Linux and Windows server deployments, with some of its ingredients -- such as Novell GroupWise -- running on Novell's legacy NetWare servers, too.

The Java-based server deployments support not just Microsoft's Internet Explorer, but just about any other browser -- including Firefox, Opera, and Safari -- and operate on virtually any desktop OS, including Windows, Linux, and Apple Macintosh, according to Lindstedt.

"Teaming" comes into the name of the suite due to the inclusion of Novell Teaming, a new software product for Windows and Linux -- based on software obtained through Novell's SiteScape buyout -- aimed at bringing some of the flavor of wikis, blogs, and social networking sites to business workers, including corporate developers.

Other ingredients of the software bundle include OpenOffice for Linux and Windows; the crossplatform Novell ZENworks Suite, for automated IT asset management; Novell Open Enterprise Server; and SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop.

Lindstedt considers OpenOffice a key element in Novell's contest with Microsoft. "When companies buy Microsoft Office, they often go ahead and buy Microsoft servers, too. All of this can get extremely expensive."

According to an internal survey at Novell, around 20 percent of Workgroup Suite customers are running OpenOffice throughout their organizations. "And if you include customers that are running OpenOffice just in pockets of their organizations, the numbers get much higher," BetaNews was told.

Customers who want to use components in Workgroup with "alternate" messaging platforms to GroupWise -- such as Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes -- can purchase the bundle without GroupWise at a lower price. Likewise, the bundle is also available for less money without Novell Teaming.

Lindstedt said he also views IBM's Notes/Sametime environment as a competitor to NOWS, particularly with the recent additions of "unified communications" features such as realtime collaboration.

In an interview interview with BetaNews, Adam Gartenberg, IBM's senior offering manager for realtime and team collaboration, said IBM has also picked up new customers over the past year from Microsoft environments.

Novell's Lindstedt told BetaNews this week that a free, open source edition of Novell's teaming software is available through ICEcore, an open source project sponsored by Novell.

Novell's commercial Teaming product, though, works not just with the open source databases supported by ICEcore, but also with enterprise databases such as Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server, he said.

There are smaller differences, too, such as support in the commercial edition for bidirectional LDAP synchronization of users.

First announced in late 2006, Novell's interoperability agreement with Microsoft covers a variety of areas, including document interoperability, systems management, and virtualization. But the operability of Teaming across both Windows and Linux has absolutely nothing to do with the Microsoft pact, according to the Novell exec.

Instead, prior to Novell's SiteScape acquisition in February of this year, SiteScape collaborated with Novell directly on converting its originally Windows-only software code into open source code that runs across both environments.

Meanwhile, although Novell released its most recent major edition of GroupWise several years ago, the vendor has continuously issued smaller updates to the messaging platform around management, security, and user interface enhancements, according to Lindstedt.

Slated for release in the second half of 2008, the next major release of GroupWise -- codenamed Bonsai -- will feature more improvements in these directions, along with greater integration with Novell Teaming, he said.

Meanwhile, NOWS with Teaming offers "a flexible buying program with options to cater for different customer needs. As an example, the full Novell Open Workgroup Suite with Teaming is priced at $140 per user or device, with customers deciding on user or device licensing," Lindstedt said.

Maintenance can be optionally added at an annual fee of $115 per user or device. The maintenance fee covers "unlimited electronic and phone support, electronic training, and rights to all new versions of the included products as they become available," he told BetaNews.

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