My annual visit to Novell BrainShare last week was, as always, enjoyable and informative. While the vendors with whom I spoke weren't all that pleased with the level of traffic on the exhibits floor, the event seemed well attended and fairly busy.
Novell has some very good messaging and collaboration technology. GroupWise is a solid offering that is used by very large companies like TRW and Wyeth. Interface changes in Bonsai will improve the GroupWise user experience significantly. Novell Teaming + Conferencing is a solid offering. The company’s acquisition of SiteScape will bolster the company’s abilities in collaboration and unified communications. Add to all of this Novell’s strong position in the Linux market, it technology-sharing agreement with Microsoft, its focus on virtualization, and its many other technical strengths.
That said, many (including me) talk about Novell’s lagging position in the messaging and collaboration market behind Microsoft and IBM, the defection of GroupWise customers to other platforms, etc. If Novell is lagging behind its competitors, why is that the case?
Here’s my two-part theory:
* First, GroupWise is too easy to manage. The fact that one admin can support 20,000 or more users means that in most companies where GroupWise is deployed, there will be very few people that can appreciate or understand the system’s technical merits or low cost of ownership. Novell focuses heavily on meeting the needs of IT folks, as exemplified by Novell's slogan “Making IT Work As One.” However, IT staffers are not typically (nor are they supposed to be) the most vocal or persuasive advocates in the average organization.
* The second part of my theory is related: Novell does not focus as heavily on the user experience as do some of it rivals. Microsoft, for example, has done a very good job of equating Outlook and Exchange in the minds of many decision-makers, primarily among those outside of the IT department. Many people – even among Microsoft’s competitors – think of Outlook and Exchange as more or less synonymous capabilities, and because Outlook is a solid offering that keeps getting better with each new release, this creates a large number of advocates for Exchange.
In my opinion, Novell needs to keep driving home the technical strengths of GroupWise, but it also needs to focus much more on creating advocates of the offering among users, particularly those in senior management who sign the checks for messaging and collaboration systems. That appears to be the direction with Bonsai – it will be interesting to see how it works.