Rethinking Outlook

Novell’s GroupWise offers strong security, comparable features

When I reported that Novell's Small Business Suite included the GroupWise application for e-mail, calendar collaboration and group task lists, some readers wondered whether GroupWise really has a place in small businesses.

For answers, I turned to Paul Anderson, CEO of Novacoast, an IT services company in southern California. Novacoast’s customers include big companies such as 20th Century Fox, and many small ones (fewer than 25 users) like Leon’s Transmission, which makes Anderson’s perspective quite valuable.

While Microsoft Outlook rules the small business market, its share is slipping, Anderson says: “People are sick of the virus problems. The security vulnerabilities are outweighing the value of the Outlook client.”

Anderson estimates 90% of his small business customers use the Microsoft Outlook client today, down from five years ago when nearly everyone did. When a Novacoast customer wants to move away from Outlook, GroupWise is an easy sell because of Novell's increased security and resistance to viruses, Anderson says. Unlike Outlook, GroupWise doesn't allow outside macros and scripts to execute, shutting the door to the most popular virus transmission method.

But viruses aren't the only thing pushing small businesses from Outlook. Security inside Outlook, such as the ability to read someone else’s e-mail, has problems. “Outlook Web Access is the most vulnerable,” Anderson says. “We just did a security audit for a bank. Within two hours, we were looking at the CEO’s e-mail through Outlook Web Access.”

Outlook and GroupWise occupy that middle space between e-mail clients and true collaborative software. Both offer shared calendars and task lists, and the ability (with authorization) to commit someone else’s time to fit into group meetings. And unlike the enterprise-focused Lotus Notes, neither requires an abundance of training and resources.

Even companies with special software for scheduling people and resources, such as construction companies, use e-mail packages for scheduling because they feel so comfortable with their e-mail application, Anderson says. “Our construction customers are in their e-mail application 10 times more than in their construction package,” he says. “When they need to find out where Joe is working today, they go to their e-mail calendar.”

GroupWise, in the past lagging far behind the functionality of Outlook, is catching up, making the migration from Outlook to GroupWise easier. “Novell is chipping away at the end-user features Outlook has,” Anderson says. “They never had a story in contact management, but now it’s comparable if not equal. They’re giving customers what they want, such as color coding messages from different senders.”

Anderson says he’s surprised to see the ways some clients use e-mail. Many small customers use the application as their standard means of file transfer, clogging their e-mail servers. Why? “People use the tools they're comfortable using,” he says.

He’s also seen two clients exposing data to their customer base because they give them e-mail accounts on their own systems. Now that’s just plain dumb. But it’s not the worst self-inflicted security wound small businesses have. “The dumbest thing customers do is put up wireless networks and do absolutely nothing to secure them,” Anderson says.

We'll talk about improving your wireless network security next time.

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