Groupware's Tug of War

Pulled by demands for backward capability and pushed to adopt open standards, groupware's key players appear to be caught in a taffy machine

For those grappling and groping with groupware, what pulses from the past is the echo of Marconi: "What hath Berners-Lee wrought?"


This guiding light of the World Wide Web transformed the Internet in the process of catalyzing interest in the network of networks. Along the way, the spinoff intranets now transform workers, the workplace, a host of entrepreneurs and the entrenched leaders of the groupware industry.


In the midst of the action are well-known key players either preparing client/server solutions for delivery later this month and this year or coming off recent releases. Novell's GroupWise 5 should be out shortly, Lotus Notes 4.5 is imminent, Hewlett-Packard's OpenMail 4.0 is recent vintage, Microsoft Exchange 4.0 Service Pack 2 just came on the scene and Oracle, the relational database giant, will debut its entry, InterOffice. Most products enjoyed an extensive beta stage, thanks in part to the Internet.

Beyond the new entrants and the recognized market leaders, the key issue for systems integration professionals remains the same: to migrate or not to migrate, to revamp or to revisit current solutions.

According to longtime industry observer Mark Gibaldi, information technology manager for the Cotelligent Group, San Francisco, Internet/intranet consultants, in a very short time a mature industry with established market share and stable installations turned into one of massive change. Nearly every IS manager is being told by their vendors to migrate their systems to their current vendor's latest product.

"If the vendors have their way, all users will be running new software by the end of next year. Each vendor wants that software to be their own," says Gibaldi. "Massive changes in industry standards, the evolution of the Internet and competitive vendors releasing major new versions or products at the same time have turned the e-mail/groupware market on its head. It's all up for grabs."

No one questions the changing profile of the market, the transformation caused by the Internet and Web browser clients. What Peter and Trudy Johnson-Lenz first called groupware in 1978, that is, a whole system "of intentional group processes plus supporting software" is now embedded in the intranet. There's money to be made. Zona Research predicts that sales of software to run intranet servers will top $4 billion in 1997. And the pace of development continues to accelerate.

In an interview with Tim Berners-Lee published recently in the World Wide Web Journal, the creator of the World Wide Web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium posed the rhetorical question: "What is a Web year now, about three months?" He also admitted to shying away from the term "interactive." Then he said, "Well, I've recently started using the term 'intercreativity' instead of interactivity. By this I mean something like building things together, which is more than filling out a form and hitting 'submit.'"

Wherever the direction of groupware/intranet, most key players will feel caught in a taffy machine, pulled into the past by demands for backward capability with proprietary systems and urged into the future with the adoption of open standards.

Mental Models

With all the fanfare surrounding intranets and the attendant promise of more and better communication, collaboration and productivity, Wanda J. Orlikowski, associate professor of Information Technologies at the MIT Sloan School of Management, has been researching the use of information technologies, such as groupware, and its effect on work practices.

"It's amazing how few organizations raise the question of whether the task at hand is one that can be done collaboratively? Not every job is best done by a team," says Orlikowski.

For the MIT researcher, the answer depends heavily on context. In some cases, it may be necessary to redefine the work in order to make it collaborative. Executives evaluating the potential benefits of groupware might also consider the work culture, for example, the incentive system, the reward structure and the system of evaluation, which is used to encourage and motivate staff and facilitate interaction and teamwork. Orlikowski brings in the notion of mental models, of shared understandings and shared protocols, of tacit agreement of what staff are trying to accomplish and when it is proper to use a given groupware client for a specific task. It's a practical matter because clarifying these issues could help the companies that design, introduce and manage new communication media.

While most companies seem blithely unaware of the issues raised by Orlikowski's research, they are making their current crop of groupware/intranet clients and servers more and more feature-rich for the worker who can handle all the bells, whistles and drums.

Lotus Notes

There is no dispute about the groupware/intranet market leader: IBM's Lotus Notes. According to Ken Bisconti, Notes marketing manager, the client/server side enjoys a 46 percent market share, about 6.3 million seats, compared with Hewlett-Packard's OpenMail at 2 million seats and Microsoft Exchange at 500,000. The company is also the leader of LAN/e-mail applications. IBM is set to release Lotus Notes 4.5 later this year, complete with so-called Domino extensions. And the product literature on the Web is not shy in its claims: "Did you know that the NT integration available in Notes 4.5 is superior to any other product in its class?"

Bisconti is the first to admit that the future for groupware is the "full-serve intranet." When looking over his shoulder at the competition, he sees Microsoft and Netscape: "Microsoft for the traditional reasons of market strength; Netscape for its Web browser base."

Yet he also believes that Notes is already -- or very soon will be -- where Netscape intends to go with Galileo and Orion. That view is detailed by Marc Andreessen, vice president of technology for Netscape Communications Corp. in the white paper, "The Netscape Intranet Vision and Product Roadmap," found on Netscape's Web site. In the document, Andreessen says:

"The Full Service Intranet is a concept that Forrester Research first explored in a report of the same title dated March 1, 1996. Simply put, a Full Service Intranet is a TCP/IP network inside a company that links the company's people and information in a way that makes people more productive, information more accessible and navigation through all the resources and applications of the company's computing environment more seamless than ever before.

"The Full Service Intranet takes advantage of the family of open standards and protocols that have emerged from the Internet. These open standards make possible applications and services like e-mail, groupware, security, directory, information sharing, database access and management that are as powerful, and in many cases more powerful, than traditional proprietary systems, such as Lotus Notes or Microsoft BackOffice. Because the Full Service Intranet is built on these open standards, customers reap the benefits of cross-platform and cross-database support, flexibility and vendor independence. They also gain the ability to leverage the innovation and products created by an entire industry, not just a single vendor."

The operative concept is "open standards and protocols," the key to the Netscape strategy. To distort a phrase, a browser does not a groupware make, that "intranets are static when viewed solely from browsers and that hypertext transfer protocol, or HTTP, is a limited protocol," Andreesson says.

For the future of Notes, he sees enhancing such features as security, event-driven capabilities, text control and compatibility with OLE, ActiveX and Java. "We will be as safe and as compatible as possible. We want to fit the mold, but with more capability than found in the popular browsers," admits Bisconti.

The Lotus Notes white paper, "Lotus's Internet Applications: Bringing Extensible Business Solutions to the 'Net," is found on its Web site and in corporate news releases. Its authors note:

"The 'Net is remaking the computing landscape for organizations. It has brought demands for standards-based solutions and set new standards for simplifying the end-user experience. As the standards of the 'Net -- TCP/IP, HTTP servers and HTML documents -- move to the center of the enterprise computing vision, Lotus is adopting them. The Domino integrated Notes/HTTP server delivers the contents of a Notes application database to both Notes clients and Web browsers. And Domino provides the platform for Lotus's Internet Applications, business solutions enabling the deployment of Internet and Intranet technology in the organization."

A news release carried this overview of product strategy: "Lotus' Internet strategy has rapidly evolved during the past year, beginning with the initial shipment of InterNotes Web Publisher in May 1995, with subsequent versions shipped in November 1995 and March 1996. In May, Lotus began beta shipments of Domino, and in July will ship final product via the Web, to be used with Notes 4.x servers. In September, Lotus will ship Notes Release 4.5, incorporating the Domino server technology with the new Notes Release 4.5 client, featuring integrated calendaring and scheduling, direct Web access and support for Java applets and Internet plug-ins."

Novell

Novell's GroupWise 5 is a next-generation messaging and collaborative services solution due out this month. The product currently enjoys an installed base of 6.5 million users, according to Stewart Nelson, vice president and general manager of Novell GroupWare division. Nelson considers IBM's Lotus Notes and Microsoft's Exchange as the product's primary competition, with Netscape a fuzzy factor in Novell's planned intranet product line. This includes Galileo, the next-generation Netscape Navigator, and Orion, the next generation SuiteSpot.

"Right now, Exchange is basically 1.0, basically an e-mail product," says Nelson. "We see GroupWise as supporting a homogeneous solution for heterogeneous environments -- not restricting the front end or back end [a reference to Microsoft's operating system and server requirements to use the groupware]. On the other side, unlike our paradigm, the e-mail-based approach, Lotus is selling a development environment, not a product. Part of our strength is our reliance on scalability, location independence and open standards."

While verbal sniping about competitors' products is fairly mild, the tale on the Web is another story. With the popularity, even necessity, of maintaining a Web presence these days, product literature and claims flow in abundance. It certainly provides prospective buyers with details in evaluating competing products. Along the way, you uncover valuable tidbits. For example, on the Novell Web site, there is a handy checklist for assessing groupware features. The list details what several consulting groups think a comprehensive groupware product should include in its arsenal:

- Calendaring and scheduling

- Conferencing

- Database access

- Development tools

- Document management

- E-mail

- Forms creation, processing and routing

- Imaging

- Internet access

- Remote support

- Task management

- Workflow management

Not surprisingly, literature for GroupWise 5 boasts that this integrated, off-the-shelf solution features each functional area.

Microsoft

Microsoft's Exchange 4.0, an e-mail server that is part of BackOffice, promises, like every other offering, seamless integration from the desktop to the daunting digital universe. BackOffice is comprised of a Windows NT Server network operating system, Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft SNA Server, Microsoft Systems Management Server and Microsoft Exchange Server. And, like other companies, it claims its series of firsts -- as the client/server messaging system to integrate e-mail, group scheduling, rules, electronic forms and groupware in a single system with powerful, centralized management capabilities.

With the World Wide Web, the corporate view and hyperbolic claims are as near as your modem or network card. Proclaiming on its Web site, "It's Time to Set the (Pricing) Record Straight," Microsoft says, "Lotus has recently made some claims regarding the cost efficiency of intranet solutions designed using Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange Server. Let's set the record straight."

It doesn't stop there. In a hyperlinked message on its server, Microsoft offers this scorcher: "Comparing Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes, Microsoft has learned that the following paper, 'Comparing Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes,' has been forwarded by Lotus employees to customers and to the press. It contains a large amount of incorrect and misleading information. The following is the text of the Lotus paper, interspersed with Microsoft corrections."

Why not take it up another notch and cover the bases? Just a link away is an attack on Netscape. "Netscape Announces Mail Server 2.0. On April 22, 1996, Netscape announced their upcoming Mail Server 2.0 product. The Mail Server 2.0 press release and data sheet imply incorrect information about Microsoft Mail and Microsoft Exchange Server. This paper serves to educate and clarify any questions with regards to Microsoft Mail and Microsoft Exchange that may arise from the recent Netscape Mail Server 2.0 announcements." Let the Web wars begin.

Oracle

The newest kid on the groupware block is Oracle with its InterOffice, the first fully scalable, Web-based collaborative software, according to Georges van Hoegaerden, group marketing manager, communication products. The link is obvious, given the importance of databases within companies today, both as tools and as assets.

The relational database giant that dominates its market claims that InterOffice offers the "next generation of groupware, architected specifically for the World Wide Web. We are a year ahead of the competition with this product," says van Hoegaerden. His goal is $100 million the first year, based on $95 per mailbox.

An open, scalable environment, InterOffice lets you integrate existing data stored in relational databases, as well as develop collaborative applications both internally and on external networks, such as the Internet and wireless networks. You can build the applications using Oracle Developer/2000, Oracle Power Browser or tools that support MAPI, OCX/ActiveX, OLE, ODMA, C/C or the World Wide Web.

Like the competition, InterOffice includes messaging, calendar/scheduling, directory, document management and workflow services. It also includes programming services to interconnect different clients, such as Web browsers, POP3, IMAP4, SMTP, MAPI E-mail clients, VisualBasic desktop applications, personal digital assistants -- PDAs -- and smart phones. The messaging server uses the Oracle7 server to store and manage all InterOffice data. The Oracle7 server uses SQL*Net, Oracle's networking protocol, to communicate among Oracle7 databases. Since the messaging server is written as a database application in the database, messages become part of the database once they are sent.

Part of the Oracle advantage is knowing how to connect its product to its database to ensure the highest performance and use of database features. These features may prove important to companies trying to make information available to customers and employees over the Internet.

Netscape

The youthful runner quickly making up ground against the larger and better-financed competition is Netscape, bathing in its browser bonanza and packing plenty of promise. The steady stream of corporate commitments flowing from Netscape's home page matches the vision of Netscape for Galileo and Orion. But in the present, Netscape is pushing the envelope, standing on the ledge of Internet and groupware/intranet development.

The company this summer signed a strategic marketing and development agreement with online giant CompuServe to deliver a hosted intranet service. For CompuServe, the focus is its consulting group helping companies customize their hosted intranet environment. According to the company, CompuServe will maintain server "farms," installing, servicing, supporting and maintaining them where customers will house their private applications.

Netscape's SuiteSpot is an integrated family of servers to run a full-service intranet. The real story is Orion, the code name for the next major release of SuiteSpot, slated to roll out in the next 12 months. According to Netscape, "Our vision for Orion is to advance SuiteSpot's role as the state-of-the-art, full-service intranet server suite by achieving full functional parity with proprietary e-mail and groupware alternatives, and to innovate in important functional areas such as directories, navigation and security -- resulting in the easiest, most powerful, most open and lowest-cost way for you to build, deploy and scale your full-service intranet."

Niche Players

Beyond the major players are a quickly growing number of niche companies that are carving out groupware space. Among the new products are Hahtsite, Goldmine, Crew, Wordgroup 2.0 and Wildcat!.

Billed as a solution for companies with specific needs not satisfied by a groupware suite and claimed as the first fully integrated development environment for building Web-based applications, Hahtsite lets application developers and Web content creators design, develop, deploy and update Web-based applications in one environment.

Targeted to the PC-networked office environment, Goldmine for Windows 95 is contact management software, complete with Internet links, a knowledge base and a communications gateway add-on, called GoldSync. The company's strategy is to evolve with the personal information manager market into the next generation of office automation applications, so-called Workgroup Information Managers.

A third entrant is Thuridion's Crew, a server-based suite of interoperable Internet groupware products targeted to Internet service providers, as well as intranet solution providers and small businesses who want to quickly set up an Internet presence and share information. It includes messaging, group scheduling, file sharing and user-controlled access. It uses current browsers, such as Netscape Navigator, for its front-end client.

A fourth company in the game is Galacticomm with its Worldgroup 2.0, a client/server intranet/Internet application suite for Windows 95, Windows NT and Windows 3.1, targeted to corporate webmasters. Self-described as "extended groupware," the Worldgroup 2.0 client comes as a free plug-in for Netscape Navigator. Worldgroup 2.0 includes its own Web server and can be used with those by Netscape, O'Reilly, Microsoft and Quarterdeck.

A fifth niche player is Mustang with its Wildcat! Interactive Net Server targeted to system administrators and webmasters. The company just released a suite of utilities for full message, file management and report generation.

The Future

Where is groupware/intranet heading? One clear path is open standards. An indication was the recent announcement that more than 20 companies joined Netscape and Hewlett-Packard in helping define a proposed standard for Internet calendaring and scheduling. This will let users manage their calendars and schedule meetings on corporate intranets and over the Internet with interoperable products from many vendors. Included among the supporters were Goldmine Software, Hewlett-Packard, Lotus and Novell.

Mark Gibaldi, information technology manager for the Cotelligent Group and a person who's tracked the groupware market over the last decade, reinforces the point. "My advice to companies today looking at groupware and the range of available features is to stay close to standards and focus on high quality." With groupware/intranet ushering in a whole new paradigm for service, he sees migration as a critical issue. The catalyst is the recent releases of Microsoft Exchange Server and IBM/Lotus Notes 4.0.

"Microsoft is telling its customers to migrate off Microsoft Mail and onto Exchange Server. Lotus is telling its CC:Mail and Notes 3.x users to migrate to Notes 4.0. The result is industrywide transition. Virtually all the desktops in corporate America which are using Microsoft or Lotus e-mail or groupware will be changing to another platform," says Gibaldi.

"They may choose to stick with the same vendor or switch. In any case, most of them will evaluate all the product options available since the effort to migrate systems will be similar whether they stick with their current vendor or switch. This is because of the significant differences between MS Mail and Exchange, as well as between Notes 3.x and 4.x. Of course, they will wish to avoid another system migration in the near future. With this in mind, they will be trying to determine the future direction of e-mail and groupware. Of course the 'White Knights' of IS decision-makers everywhere are 'industry standards.'"

And clearly there are e-mail and groupware standards in place today, driven by the success of the Internet. These include LDAP, SMTP, NNTP, HTTP, SNMP and MIME, standards that key players agreed on and are supporting or will support in their products.

Gibaldi says the most interesting player right now is Netscape since it was born amidst the Internet revolution and is a child of it. As a result, the internal architecture of SuiteSpot is entirely based on the very Internet standards that everyone has agreed is the future for the industry; the same standards for which Oracle, Microsoft, Lotus and the rest of the industry have announced support.

"There are no gateways. Netscape is built using the standards internally and they are its native languages. This allows an IS manager to swap out a Netscape component and replace it with a component from another vendor, as long as that vendor also supports the industry standards," says Gibaldi.

"Netscape designed their SuiteSpot product to require no more than Netscape Navigator on the desktop. Since it is already so widely deployed, IS managers see the advantage of not having to pay for or deploy new desktop software. Netscape SuiteSpot is very inexpensive. It is, in my opinion, the most efficient user of hardware resources and has the best cross platform support," Gibaldi says.

Are there potholes ahead? Yes, and they seem to center on the issue of standards. Take, for example, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, a next-generation directory protocol born at the University of Michigan and profiled recently by Gordon Benett, editor-in-chief of Intranet Design Magazine and principal architect at Techne Group. More than 40 companies endorsed this proposed open standard for directory services on the Internet in April.

As Benett explains, "Using LDAP, companies can map their corporate directories to actual business processes, rather than arbitrary codes. LDAP directories are arranged as trees.... An LDAP directory server thus makes it possible for a corporate user to find the information resources needed anywhere on the enterprise network.... LDAP has the potential to radically improve Web productivity and navigability. To integrate the two technologies, RFC-1959 proposes to add an "ldap://" resource to the URL syntax. An effective implementation of this idea would bring a measure of Dewey decimal sobriety to the terabyte jungle."

Benett alerts readers that Microsoft did not endorse LDAP, but says it will support LDAP in a forthcoming version of Exchange. He notes, "But for Microsoft, LDAP is another in the growing list of open standards Netscape is using to gain mindshare and shift the action from the desktop, where Wintel remains unbeatable, to the network."

For More Information

Benett, Gordon, editor-in-chief of Intranet Design Magazine and principal architect at Techne Group: http://www.innergy.com/idm0896d.html; archives at http://www.innergy.com/idm/v1n4/idm0896d.html

Galacticomm: http://www.gcomm.com/

GoldMine Software Corp.: http://www.goldminesw.com/ie/

Hewlett-Packard Co.'s OpenMail:

http://www.openmail.external.hp.com/OpenMail/openmail.html

Intranet Design Magazine: http://www.innergy.com/;

http://www.innergy.com/idm/v1n4/idm0896d.html (archives)

Introducing Hahtsite: http://www.hahtsite.com/

Introduction to Microsoft Exchange: http://www.microsoft.com/Exchange/eval.htm

Lotus Notes: http://www.lotus.com/notes/

Mustang Software Inc.: http://www.mustang.com/

"Netscape Intranet Vision and Product Roadmap":

http://home.netscape.com/comprod/at_work/white_paper/intranet/vision.html

Novell: GroupWise Web Site. http://www.novell.com/groupwise/

Oracle InterOffice: http://www.oracle.com/products/groupware/interoffice/html/

Orlikowski, Wanda J. "Learning from Notes: Organizational Issues in Groupware

Implementation." MIT Sloan School Working Paper

Orlikowski, Wanda J. "Evolving with Notes: Organizational Change around

Groupware Technology." Massachusetts Institute of Technology. June 1995.

http://ccs.mit.edu/CCSWP186.html

Stodolsky, David S. (1995). "Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) list for comp.

groupware." _Comp.groupware_ [Usenet]. (Available by anonymous FTP from rtfm.mit.edu in the directory pub/usenet-by-group/news.answers/comp-groupware-faq.)

Thuridion's Crew: http://www.thuridion.com/products/crew/

World Wide Web Consortium: http://www.w3.org/

World Wide Web Journal: http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/Journal/


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