October 9, 2007

Groupware!

A client wants to know about possible “calendaring solutions,” things like a Notes or an Exchange, but presumably cheap/free.

In this case, these guys aren’t currently Outlook/Exchange users, and obviously Exchange doesn’t fit the definition of “cheap,” so I don’t have to contend with that. Here I’m referring to the difficulty switching away from Outlook/Exchange, which generally boils down to:

  1. Useful features that are available in Exchange but not generally available in competing FOSS products. A few years ago lots of products were missing free/busy information, which was often a deal breaker. (Today many packages seem to have this, but certainly not all of them.) Other things might be the slick web interface that is Outlook Web Access (as long as you’re in IE), integration with Windows Mobile and Blackberry (well, with BES at least) devices.

  2. People generally like Outlook, or at least hate it less than other things they’ve used. It’s consistent with another fixture in most businesses, Microsoft Office. It’s got a variety of software available for it and software that integrates with it (particularly… Microsoft Office). It’s also prettier than a lot of the competition.

I’m loathe to say Outlook/Exchange is good, precisely. Were I to try to start using Outlook I expect I’d find a number of things to hate about it, and I know of many occasions when administering Exchange was a bitch (for example, crashing with no explanation for why (inadequate logging, that is), or MTA features that Exchange should have). The fact remains, however, that for businesses invested in Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office, and putting aside the issue of cost, you could do a lot worse than Outlook/Exchange. The two products offer useful features still not found in most FOSS products (at least, not all in the same product).

So it’s a good thing I don’t have to contend with that. (My own personal biases aside, normally I would probably suggest Exchange, in the interests of my client. In this particular case, their budget rules it out.)

Moving on, I don’t know of a good product to suggest to them! That is, I’ve found several FOSS projects, which I’ll list below, but I have no idea which of them are even production quality, let alone stable, usable, and whether they will meet my client’s needs. I don’t have time to review them, so unfortunately I probably won’t be able to make a “recommendation” other than basically giving them this list.

This is not me asking for any help, really, though I welcome opinions on these various products I suppose. The real purpose of this post is to note the small amount of research I’ve done at this point, and to give me a list of products I can go back and check later when I have some time (laughter ensues).

Without further delay, the list of generally free and/or open source “groupware” I’ve found:

  • Meldware Communication Suite: Java (immediate reaction: mmm, huge footprints and one million dependencies). looks like it includes an MTA, calendar server (think WCAP), and separately some sort of “web interface.” They have some 1.0… milestone releases?
  • Citadel: this used to be BBS software, says Wikipedia? WTF? Nonetheless I’ve read several recommendations for it. Web interface supposed to be modern (read: AJAX) and pretty nice. I just don’t know if this is good for, like, scheduling meetings.
  • OpenGroupware.org
  • Open-Xchange: How free is it? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure they have at least some commercial (which is to say, proprietary and not free-as-in-beer) components. Been around for a long time.
  • Scalix
  • Zimbra: I don’t even really know if the calendaring here, my client’s major requirement, is even available, let alone useful for a business. Plus I’m still biased against Zimbra because the last time I tried to install from source was an incredible nightmare.
  • Group-Office
  • Horde Groupware: This is basically a nice distribution of the various Horde applications such as Kronolith, their calendaring software. This looks attractive to me, since they’re already using Imp for webmail. I’m also fairly certain Horde is going to serve as the web interface for Kolab (see below) which probably says that others find it to be a good interface and easy enough to integrate with.
  • Kolab: I confess that I didn’t really look at these guys, since their web interface is still “experimental,” and I probably require that.
  • Simple Groupware
  • phpGroupWare
  • eGroupWare
  • Chandler: Is it usable now? Does it have a web interface? I have no idea.
  • Google Calendar: They’ve got “conference room and resource scheduling” and free/busy information at least. I like Google Spreadsheet so far. I’m not sure if $50/year is totally unrealistic for my client’s budget or not.

So that’s the list of contenders I found. Since I had no real time to review/demo these products, I have no idea if some of them are unusable, defunct, or closed/proprietary/costly.