Linux Groupware Roundup
Even if most of the groupware contenders provide a Web interface to every feature they offer, users often prefer a native client. Native clients provide access to standard groupware features, such as contacts, e-mail, notes and calendaring. On Linux, three native groupware clients are taking the lead over others: KDE Kontact, Novell Evolution and Mozilla Thunderbird and Sunbird.
Kontact, KDE's personal information management suite, contains e-mail, calendar, contacts, notes and news components. As of the Kontact 1.1 release, included in KDE 3.4, GroupDAV support is included.
Novell Evolution is a popular groupware client that offers e-mail, calendaring, contacts and task management in one application. The Noodle Project aims to improve the compatibility between Evolution and OpenGroupware. The developers recently adopted GroupDAV, which not only will allow Evolution to work with OGo but also with all groupware servers implementing the proposed standard, including Citadel.
The Mozilla Project, with Thunderbird and Sunbird, is coming along nicely with great cross-platform applications. Thunderbird already is a mature e-mail and contacts management application, and Sunbird is maturing quickly. Stelian Pop has started adding GroupDAV support to Sunbird, making interoperability with various groupware possible. There also is an effort called SyncKolab to add Kolab synchronization capabilities to Thunderbird and its calendar extension. This project is progressing rapidly, and Kolab2 support is in the works.
Another client gaining maturity is Aethera, a localized, multiplatform application developed by TheKompany.com. Although currently offering support only for Kolab1 and Citadel, it eventually may support GroupDAV.
Native clients for platforms such as Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS X also might become options with regard to the groupware solution. Commercial connectors currently are available for Microsoft Outlook—Toltec Connector for Kolab2, OXlook for OPEN-XCHANGE and ZideLook for OpenGroupware—but the usage of cross-platform open-source clients such as Mozilla Thunderbird and Sunbird certainly is an economically appealing option.
Although a Web interface is attractive for accessing groupware-related information, it sometimes can be difficult to have Web access. Most mobile workers have cellular phones or handheld devices that offer contact management, notes and scheduling. The need to synchronize these devices to a groupware product is growing and solutions are emerging.
Part of the GNOME platform, MultiSync is a modular program to synchronize calendars, contacts and other information between programs on your computer and cellular phones or handheld devices. MultiSync supports Novell Evolution, which can connect to many groupware solutions, as well as many devices such as Palm, Zaurus, PocketPC and many Sony-Ericsson phones.
KDE's universal syncing application, KitchenSync, is similar to MultiSync. Due to their similarity, the two projects are being merged into a new project called OpenSync. Part of the freedesktop.org collaborative zone, the OpenSync Project is creating a new API, libraries and synchronization plugins that eventually will become the standardized synchronization framework used by projects such as GNOME and KDE.
On the other hand, projects such as OpenGroupware and OPEN-XCHANGE support Palm synchronization through the HotSync manager. They now have started to add support for SyncML, an XML-based standard allowing you to synchronize PIM-related information from your mobile device directly with the groupware server.
A proliferation of groupware clients and servers now is available. Good proposed standards, such as GroupDAV and SyncML, need to be adopted by more projects and vendors in order to ease interoperability among native clients, mobile devices and groupware servers. We also should see efforts to merge soon among groupware developers, as there likely are too many solutions available currently.
Scalability remains to be seen, especially for a large amount of users—20,000 users and beyond. Projects such as SOGo, also based on the SOPE application server, address scalability by reducing the features of projects such as OpenGroupware, so they can scale to many thousands of users. This project, which started in August 2004, is promising in this regard.
Migration from existing groupware is another problem, particularly when Microsoft Exchange is involved. The OpenGroupware Project was started to address this issue, and hopefully progress will be made toward this adoption barrier.
In our next article, we will pick one of the groupware servers mentioned in this article and detail the installation and configuration steps required to deploy it as well as the native client's configuration.
Resources for this article: /article/8333.
Francis Lachapelle (firstname.lastname@example.org) holds a Bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering from McGill University. He currently is a systems architect for Inverse inc., an IT consulting company located in downtown Montréal.
Ludovic Marcotte (email@example.com) holds a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from the University of Montréal. He currently is a systems architect for Inverse inc., an IT consulting company located in downtown Montréal.
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