GroupWise goes wireless, with style

In a world where Microsoft Corp. seems to dominate many of the mainstream software categories, Novell Inc. refuses to concede defeat. For example, there are more than 20 million users worldwide of Novell's GroupWise collaboration tool. And while many government agencies using Exchange and Outlook struggle with constant virus attacks that exploit security holes in the Microsoft products, GroupWise remains largely immune to such attacks.

Wireless capabilities dominate the list of new features in GroupWise 6. Any device enabled for Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), such as a personal digital assistant, can have full access to the GroupWise Universal Mailbox. Non-WAP phones can have e-mail access, but they require a gateway at the wireless provider's facility.

Wireless access also extends to the management side of things with the GroupWise Monitor agents. Administrators can establish alert thresholds that will trigger a message to be sent to a cell phone or pager. All administrative functions can then be accomplished through a World Wide Web interface with the same wireless access as standard messaging. The question for most agencies will be whether the new wireless features justify the time and expense of upgrading.

GroupWise 6 has also been decoupled from Novell's NetWare operating system. With this version, all GroupWise agents are available on both NetWare and Microsoft Windows NT/2000 systems. Novell has added a number of caching features to improve the scalability of the product, as well as support for Novell Cluster Services for greater reliability.

We installed GroupWise 6 on a Compaq Computer Corp. ProLiant 5500R running NetWare 5.1 with 512M of memory and 9G of disk space. The installation process was straightforward but there were several prerequisites. The first is to have the latest OS service pack installed (SP2a for NetWare 5.1). You'll also need the latest version of ConsoleOne (1.2.d), Novell's administration tool. The installation program checks to see whether you have the proper version installed and, if not, gives an option to install it before proceeding. GroupWise has always done a better job than most of handling the remote mail access problem. The "Hit the Road" option on the Tools menu allows you to create, set up or update your remote mailbox. Specific rules for retrieving messages allow you to pick up only new mail when operating in remote mode or only pick up messages smaller than a specified size.

For the security conscious, GroupWise 6 utilizes both public-key infrastructure technologies and Internet-standard Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption protocols. For wireless security, you can get full 128-bit encryption down to the device using SSL. In the case of non-WAP devices, there is full encryption down to the gateway, and then you're at the mercy of the wireless provider.

From an administrator's perspective, GroupWise 6 adds a host of remote capabilities to an already robust set of tools. All of the main administration functions use the Java-based Console.One program. The performance of Console.One has been greatly improved. We found the current version to be nearly as responsive as Novell's venerable NWadmin tool. Also new to GroupWise 6 is a smarter backup and restore utility.

Another nice thing about GroupWise is the tight coupling with Novell Directory Services, now called eDirectory. All authentication goes through eDirectory, so you don't need separate passwords for the mail system and the operating system. To accomplish the same thing with Microsoft Exchange, you must be running the latest version on a Windows 2000 Server with a full implementation of Active Directory.

Overall, GroupWise 6 adds features and capabilities to enhance the performance of the product and expand accessibility to the world of wireless devices. If your agency is contemplating an upgrade from a previous version of GroupWise, you'll certainly benefit from the performance and scalability enhancements. The big push for this version is wireless access, so if you don't need it, you might want to stick with what you've got.

Ferrill, based in Lancaster, Calif., has been using and writing about Novell products for almost 15 years. He can be reached at paul.ferrill@verizon.net.

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