Enterprise Groupware Products

We evaluated products from the top players in the groupware arena. See which one toppled its rivals with its extensive application-development functionality, smooth install and management capabilities.

March 26, 2004

10 Min Read
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Finally, we compared list prices. Microsoft's licensing is cheapest at $67 for each Client Access License. Novell's GroupWise is less expensive than Domino when purchased in smaller quantities (500 licenses) and slightly more expensive for greater quantities (5,000 licenses). IBM's pricing was the highest of the three, approximately $42 more per license than Microsoft's product at smaller quantities. Maintenance contracts and other discounts could affect the cost per license (see the features chart on page 64 for a pricing breakdown).

Our Editor's Choice award went to IBM's Lotus Domino 6.5. Domino has the easiest user administration interface, and it includes more built-in functionality than its competitors. Domino's application development is standards-based and multiplatform, and the client software is infinitely configurable. Although the Domino software lets you develop on a production server, that's not a good idea.

Microsoft finished close on IBM's heels. Exchange is capable of building a top-notch collaborative environment--but you must be willing to invest in the half-dozen applications necessary to fully implement it and to purchase the right hardware to run it on.

Novell's GroupWise seems to be playing catch-up in a number of areas. For example, its application tools are nearly nonexistent. And though GroupWise is mature, the client isn't as refined as the other two.

Not surprisingly, all three packages are outstanding groupware platforms. This threesome has been around long enough that basic features, such as e-mail and calendaring, are old hat. We did find several important differences, though, that will affect how people use and modify the products. For instance, in application development, only Domino comes with a built-in programming platform and all the tools needed to develop customized applications right out of the box. Exchange offers the popular .Net development suite, and Novell provides a basic package for tweaking functionality. A number of third-party packages, including Advansys' Formativ, are available for further enhancing GroupWise.The three packages also differ in user administration. The preferred methods for both Exchange and GroupWise are tied to the directory services each provides. Domino uses its own directory structure that, though LDAP-compliant, lacks some administration functionality. But that same LDAP compliance means you can keep your existing directory structure to populate and manage the Domino/Notes Address Book.The latest incarnation of the Domino mail platform is also a robust application development environment. Development has been one of Domino's strengths for some time. Version 6.5 lets application designers include support for IM--even for existing Notes apps--by simply clicking a few check boxes from within Domino Designer.

Application development can be performed using LotusScript (Domino's native programming language), JRE (Java Runtime Environment), JavaScript, HTML or XML. This polyglot support gives developers a broad range of options for creating applications that can be deployed in a multiplatform environment. The Domino Designer software lets programmers create applications that tie directly into external data sources and can streamline work flow by putting all pertinent information into a single, familiar interface. Plus, the Domino environment is completely self-contained. You can develop and deploy custom Notes or Web applications from within the Domino environment.

Of the three packages tested, Domino runs on the broadest range of hardware platforms and operating systems--including IBM iSeries and zSeries, Linux and Windows. Our base installation of Domino server went quickly and smoothly. Pop the CD into the server, answer a few questions and you're on your way. Similarly, the Domino server is a basic, no-frills application. Set to run as a system service on start-up, the program displays a command-prompt window showing user connections and scheduled tasks, called agents. You can perform server administration from any machine running the Domino Administrator client. The admin interface is well-laid-out and makes sense, and the single interface can be used to connect to all Domino servers enterprisewide.

New to the Notes client is integration with the Lotus IM client (formerly Sametime). This lets users quickly respond to other IM users. The IM client also supports AOL's AIM client for external communications.

In addition, the Notes client lets users customize their Welcome Page--they choose what information is displayed when the client launches. Available options include opening the inbox, calendar, to-do list or a Web page. And IBM provides a number of skins for further customization.Domino Web Access (formerly iNotes) is included in Domino 6.5. Web Access lets company road warriors use their e-mail, calendar, contacts and to-do list from any Web browser over an encrypted connection. One of the requirements, however, is a separate Internet password that must be defined in the Domino directory. Typically, this task is taken care of when the user account is set up.

The new version of Web Access fixes a few kinks from prior versions of iNotes. Most notably, you can drag and drop mail from one folder into another. Users can customize options, including those for mail-file delegation, meeting invitation autoprocessing and Notes password changes, that previously could only be edited from the full client software. And Web Access now supports the Mozilla browser, opening the way for Linux clients to connect remotely.

A new Smart Upgrade feature aims to make the installation of new versions painless, or at least less of a nuisance. Client computers are notified when a new version of the client is available. Users can perform a completely automated upgrade or defer it. Neither Exchange nor GroupWise have this feature.

IBM Lotus Domino 6.5. Lotus Software, IBM Software Group, (800) GO-LOTUS, (617) 577-8500. www.lotus.comMicrosoft seems to have changed its strategy for collaboration with the October debut of Exchange 2003. The focus is now on the Office suite. Exchange is designed to be an integral part of the so-called "whole office experience." As a result, some features that were available in the previous version of Exchange are now in other products or have been spun off into separate ones. For example, Exchange no longer includes an IM server. To use Microsoft's IM you must purchase the Office Live Communications Server software package and make a SQL server available if you want to archive text--all of which would add significant costs to a rollout that must include IM.

Before you set up Exchange Server 2003, you'll have to do some prep work. Exchange 2003 must run on Windows 2000 Server SP3 or Windows Server 2003. Active Directory must be installed, and the Active Directory schema is extended as part of the installation. Once all the prerequisites are met, the installation is straightforward. User-level administration is performed using the Active Directory management snap-in based on each client's user object. Server administration is accomplished using the Exchange System Manager snap-in, which defines the storage group for mail and which transport protocols are available. It's inconvenient to bounce back and forth between the two screens, but it does make sense in a "Microsoftish" sort of way.The Outlook 2003 mail client sports a clean, polished user interface. Its features are well-laid-out and configurable according to user preferences. Mail can be separated into groups in any folder by date received, conversation thread, e-mail account and other options, and you can configure the Reading Pane and AutoPreview individually for each folder. Microsoft has tightened the integration of Outlook and Exchange by optimizing performance when checking mail, even over low-bandwidth connections. Or use the cached-mode feature that synchronizes a local copy of your mail with the information on the server.

Exchange Server 2003 includes Outlook Web Access (OWA) and Outlook Mobile Access (OMA). OWA is formatted to act much like Outlook 2003--it has the same look and feel as the full-blown mail client. OMA is a low-bandwidth interface designed to run on mobile devices and supports HTML, XHTML and compact HTML. Before you rush to buy that new mobile device, though, check Microsoft's product-compatibility chart to make sure your new toy will work with these products. OMA can provide direct wireless synchronization with Pocket Outlook, which ships with many Windows mobile devices.

Another new feature is the ability to synchronize mail between Outlook and Exchange using an RPC (remote procedure call) over an HTTP connection. To accomplish this, all mail servers must be running Exchange 2003 on Windows XP SP1 or higher. Connecting client machines must be running Outlook 2003, and several registry changes are required on the server. The advantage to this configuration is that it allows communication with an Exchange server to be established outside the company firewall without requiring additional ports to be opened on the firewall. For loyal Microsoft sites, Exchange 2003 is likely to be embraced happily.

Exchange Server 2003. Microsoft Corp., (425) 882-8080. www.microsoft.com GroupWise 6.5 is probably best-suited for established Novell shops. Its requirements include running Novell Directory Service (NDS) or e-Directory and the Console One application for administration. All of this could force companies running other OSs to manage another directory. GroupWise runs on Windows, NetWare and Linux,

GroupWise is the only product we tested that includes an IM system with its mail server. The other two support IM, but require third-party clients. GroupWise Messenger is LDAP-enabled and ties into eDirectory for authentication. All its communications are encrypted using SSL. Users can record conversations to a private file for personal use, and server-side recording can be set up to comply with various government regulations.GroupWise includes a Web-based mail client, called WebAccess, for mobile users. WebAccess requires several additional components, however. Two applications, WebPublisher and WebAccess, must be installed on any Web server that will handle client requests. A third component, the WebAccess Agent, handles the distribution of requests into mailboxes. All three can be installed on the same server or spread over multiple servers to increase scalability. One interesting foible: The WebAccess Agent runs only on a NetWare or Windows server, but the other two applications can be installed on a Sun Solaris server.

We were not impressed with the native GroupWise client. It does what it is meant to do, but you must go through a lot of steps to get even simple tasks completed. GroupWise 6.5 also supports the Outlook client, but this could cause glitches if the software isn't kept up to date. The client installation, for instance, can cause strange system integration problems. We couldn't exit Excel after GroupWise was installed--the "X" button to close out of the program was gray and not functional.

One of the knocks on GroupWise has been its lack of application-development capabilities. Both Domino and Exchange let developers build custom applications, while Novell has chosen to leave application development to third parties. In the wake of Novell's recent acquisition of SuSE Linux, it will be interesting to see if the company's attention turns away from GroupWise to focus on Ximian Evolution, perhaps for good.

Novell GroupWise 6.5; Novell NetMail 3.1. Novell, (800) 453-1267, (801) 861-7000. www.novell.com

ERIC FLEMING is a network administrator for KI, a furniture manufacturer based in Green Bay, Wis. Write to him at [email protected].Today's groupware products handle more than collaborative workspaces, group calendars and instant messaging: They also are important tools for application developement. We reviewed the latest versions of enterprise groupware from IBM, Microsoft and Novell. IBM's Lotus Domino Server 6.5 came out on top. It provides a panoply of groupware and application-development features across a broad range of OSs. Microsoft's Exchange Server 2003, a good fit for Microsoft shops, boasts a slick new Web client interface that Windows loyalists will embrace. Novell's GroupWise 6.5 offers broad platform support, but it lags behind in application development.


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