Novell released its 2012 version of its email software GroupWise, and the announcement was greeted by most with a big yawn. GroupWise? Seems so last century. (Actually, the last updates to the software were for version 8 back in 2008-2010.) According to one analyst, "GroupWise has 10,000 customers and is used by 47 of the 50 US state governments." It has been a distant third to Exchange and Lotus Notes for a while, and many GroupWise customers have switched over to Google Apps in the past several years.
GroupWise 2012 comes packed with nifty features such as an iPad client, better Web access, integration with Vibe and uses Skype for presence detection. Some of this is certainly late to the game, for sure. The software sells for $143 per seat, and Novell will even throw in a free SUSE Linux server too. Here is an example of its unified inbox from the new version:
While I am glad to see this product still get engineering mind-share from Novell, it is sad to be reminded of how poorly Novell's stewardship of GroupWise has been. Let's set our wayback machine for January of 1996, Mr. Peabody, when GroupWise was still a player and probably at the height of its market share.
Microsoft had just come out with Windows 95, the first version of Windows to really embrace TCP/IP and the Internet. Outlook hadn't yet been invented, and the world was running for the most part on Novell's Netware networks, which had its own directory services and distributed architecture long before Microsoft copied them into its Windows equivalents. Novell also had purchased GroupWise and it could be found in numerous enterprises as their email solution. Email for an entire enterprise was still a new concept to many, and while many corporations had Internet access, it was still somewhat novel to send emails from one corporate domain to another.
GroupWise was ahead of its time in many areas: it was the first to offer an integrated scheduling and calendar in your inbox, something that Outlook came out with eventually.
Here is an example of what that unified inbox looked back in the day.
Back in 1996, using a Web browser to read your email seemed clunky, mainly because broadband connectivity was sparse and because the UIs were miserable. When Exchange came out with its first Webmail client, it couldn't view email attachments for example. That would be unthinkable now.
One of its best features was what we've called the "save your job" button. You could recall any unread messages in case of a change of heart. This was something that was part of the product ever since the early days when it was called Word Perfect Office. It also had for a long time the ability to check-in and check-out documents from pre-specified libraries.
Well, GroupWise was certainly ahead of its time, at least back in the 1990's. Will this update make anyone switch from Exchange or Notes? Doubtful. Certainly, the few existing users will rejoice.