More details have emerged of Novell's forthcoming version of GroupWise (GW) - the product that Novell continues to pitch against Microsoft Outlook.

GW has reached what Novell describes as its open beta stage, and the company expects the product, version 7, to ship later this summer.

New features includes improved e-mail, instant messaging, cross-platform capability - where it betters the Windows-only Microsoft Exchange - and a bundled version of Novell's Linux, SuSE Enterprise Server.

Improvements include integration between e-mail and instant messaging so users can see in an e-mail whether the sender is currently online, allowing them to move to IM to immediately resolve long e-mail conversations.

A new "home" view summarises a user's most pertinent information at a glance, multiple calendars for a single user make it easier to manage multiple projects, and a quick navigation bar helps end users jump to the places they use most through a simple, one-click interface.

In terms of cross-platform support, Novell said GroupWise supports Windows, Linux, Macintosh, Web browsers and mobile devices. GroupWise 7 also enables cradle-based synchronisation of PocketPC and Palm OS-based PDAs, and has made it easier for developers to build and integrate custom applications by allowing secure access to server functions through Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), a standard Web services-oriented interface.

What GW still cannot do however is to replace Exchange at the back-end if users insist - as users will - on continuing to use Outlook clients. However, Novell offers a migration facility, and you can use the GW client to front-end Exchange-hosted Outlook files.

Novell also announced details of an Exchange-to-GroupWise competitive upgrade promotion. For a limited time, its customers migrating to GW from Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes can buy a single GW user licence for $49, including two years of upgrade protection - a saving, according to Novell, of over 70 percent.

Novell's free GroupWise Migration Utility is available to move mail, calendar, task and other items directly from Exchange and Outlook into GroupWise. Novell said that open beta versions of Novell GroupWise 7 are now available for free download, and pre-ordering of GroupWise 7 starts on 7 July. Prices will be announced at general product availability.

Novell is a shrunken husk of the company that once owned the network operating system business. Caught out by Microsoft's switch to Windows while it was in the throes of preparing to launch an all-out, DOS-based assault on Redmond's operating system business, Novell never fully recovered.

Eventually, Microsoft was to swallow up Novell's markets: NetWare, its flagship NOS, DR-DOS, WordPerfect and even its brief flirtation with Unix in the form of UnixWare and application development in the shape of the innovative, visually-oriented AppWare. All disappeared into Redmond's maw. Novell has since been very careful not to go head-to-head with Microsoft - except with GroupWise and, arguably, with SuSE Enterprise Server.

Novell's net revenues are over £1 billion a year, and it has $1.7 billion in liquid assets.