Sydney developer bolsters GroupWise

A local software developer claims to have sold a customisation tool for Novell's GroupWise into 24 countries, which could help the collaboration suite challenge Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes.

Sydney-based Advansys, with a full-time staff of five, has sold its Formativ development tool to users such as St George Bank, Cardiff University (UK) and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel in Canberra.

Formativ aims to ease development of GroupWise by allowing users to customise the tool by developing applets or installing ready-to-use applets, according to Advansys.

Novell has promoted Formativ worldwide, and helped train users in its use at its annual Brainshare conference in the US and has also helped Advansys conduct Formativ 'Webinars' with GroupWise users, and has given the product plenty of space on the Novell Web site.

Novell's support for Formativ follows criticism from some analysts that GroupWise lacks a development environment in comparison to (Lotus) Notes and (Microsoft) Exchange.

"The development environment has really driven Exchange," said Meta Group senior analyst, enterprise applications, Brian Prentice.

"Notes is first and foremost a development environment...it allows them [IBM (which owns Lotus)] to make a development environment and put a messsaging tool on top of it," he said.

"We're trying to address the perception that GroupWise doesn't have a development environment," said Advansys managing director Gregory Bell. "Many [of its] users think GroupWise can't be customised."

First released in late 2001, Formativ still has no equivalent competitor, Bell said. "What we compete against are other off-the-shelf solutions," he said.

GroupWise, however, is a simpler tool than Notes and Exchange, according to Novell's manager of partner relationships, Steve Martin, who added that many users choose the tool to escape the costs of ongoing customisation associated with competing offerings.

How much Formativ will bolster the tool will then depend on how GroupWise users plan to use the suite in the future, Prentice said.

For large businesses though, one advantage of Formativ is the way the software utilises GroupWise's e-Directory, Bell said.

Once Formativ is installed on client PCs, network administrators can publish applets to e-Directory which users can add to their copy of Formativ immediately.

"Usually you'd have to run the installer and install every applet on your workstation," Bell said, adding that Advansys has also ensured Formativ is simple to use.

"You don't have to be a professional developer [to use Formativ]," he said. "The way we've wrapped the interface makes it easier for developers and non-developers alike. You can record a solution [like macros], and we've put buttons in etc to simplify things. It [Formativ] uses VB script, so there's a low level of knowledge required," he said.

Formativ applications include workflow, process automation, forms, data extraction, import and conversion, new GroupWise views, client customisation, application and database integration.

The Formativ product suite includes developer, administrator and runtime versions.

GroupWise user St George Bank used Formativ to develop a form system to capture personal loan information at head office, which is then sent to the respective branch, Bell said.

Resellers had been important to the product's success, he said, adding, "We don't have a sales arm, and Novell resellers know the market very well. Formativ also offers repeat business for them because they can develop add-on solutions [later]."

Advansys is currently working on a visual forms designer and event handling for an upcoming Formativ release, Bell said.

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