Novell’s SharePoint rival attracts interest from Canadian users

Novell has jumped on the teaming and collaboration bandwagon with products to go up against SharePoint, the portal product from its partner — and rival — Microsoft.

Novell Teaming (NT) and Novell Teaming + Conferencing (NTC) were the brainchild of Boston-based SiteScape. Novell began tossing around the idea of offering a collaborative software package a year ago, said Bill Pray, Novell’s collaboration product manager, and it eventually decided to partner with SiteScape instead of developing its own software.

“It really came down to it that SiteScape had such a mature offering — very technically robust. Partnering would be so much faster than building it ourselves, and time to market and being relevant to the competition in the marketplace is very important in this market,” he said.

The partnership runs under an OEM agreement. Novell provided its technical requirements and assistance, while SiteScape developed the software, which has been re-branded by Novell. The beta is available now, while the summer will see two releases: a Novell-sponsored open-source version of the software with basic functionality, and an enterprise version, which features proprietary code and higher-end features like enhanced document viewers and VOIP enablement.

Novell Teaming and Novell Teaming + Conferencing were announced at last month’s BrainShare, Novell’s annual conference, where some of the more cutting-edge features were demonstrated. Each worker gets their own personal workspace in the program, where they can have blogs, wikis and comments sections, along with an enterprise-wide global space, and a team space for individual projects. The document management features allow users to drag documents from the desktop directly into the teaming area, and edit the project in its native word processing program. A document approvals process linked into the e-mail system, a discussion forum, and cross-platform search capabilities helps workflow along. The system also enables users to click on people in their contact list to start a conference call with the selected colleagues.

Pierre Chamberland, CEO of Montreal-based e-mail firm Messaging Architects, said that the feature sets of the new products are a rare combination. “With the teaming and real-time collaboration, not a lot of other companies have that combination. They have a CMS with teaming but no conferencing, for instance,” he said.

Rob Koktan, a network engineer with the Ottawa-based non-profit organization Canadian Labour Congress, plans on using the conferencing software to enable videoconferencing between the headquarters boardroom in their new building and the boardrooms of the regional offices in Vancouver, Regina, Toronto, and Moncton.

“This will make it so much easier (to manage national projects), as we can see and talk to one another in real time, not e-mail time,” he said.

The software also fits in with Novell’s current interoperatability strategy. For instance, NT and NTC runs on Linux or Windows, and with Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer. It plugs into GroupWise, Lotus Notes, and Exchange, and operates on portal software from jBox, Liferay, Oracle, and BEA. Pray feels that this flexibility will appeal to new customers, plus those who might benefit from the cost savings of open-source solutions, including small and medium-sized businesses, government, health care, and non-profits like Koktan’s (who also has a mixed environment of NetWare, SUSELinux Enterprise, and Windows servers).

Chamberland agreed. “With the education, government, and health care markets, typically there is a cost component involved. Microsoft and WebX offer hosted conference solutions that can get pretty expensive.”

His company is considering using NTC for that reason. Other cost benefits include a reduction in travel and communications costs, said Kent Erickson, Novell’s vice-president of workgroup solutions, and identity and security management solutions.

Another benefit of the software is the Web 2.0 features, which Pray sees enterprise cottoning onto in the same way that it once clamoured for mobile applications. The user-friendliness of Web 2.0 is hastening its use in enterprise businesses, he said. NT and NTC will follow this approach. The products will work right out of the box, as it is completely Web-enabled, easing the adoption process for users. (This is in contrast to SharePoint, which Chamberland claimed requires a great deal of integration and customization work.)

Aldo Zanoni, CEO and managing director of Edmonton-based Novell enterprise solutions partner company OmniTS, said as employees want increased integration between applications (in the vein of access to e-mail on their mobile devices), more and more software developers will enter into the teaming and collaboration market. “(This) software is the way of the future,” he said.

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