Group [where]

The industry view of what is and is not groupware has been redefined several times in the past few years, with "collaboration" being the current buzzword of choice. To make some sense out of the topsy-turvy groupware landscape, we look at several competing products.

The Products

Microsoft's Exchange Enterprise Server 5.5(beta release) List price: $5229 (includes server and 25 licences)Overall: The easiest to install, configure and field-test. Despite documentation claims of working equally well with any browser, the Web stuff works best using Internet Explorer.

Microsoft has certainly streamlined several points of the installation, including automatically configuring the standard entries needed to manage Internet access. Handlers for the standard Internet protocols such as Post Office Protocol (POP), Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) and Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP) are automatically loaded with default configurations in place. The Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP) connector for Internet mail requires only a few pieces of information to be up and running, unlike previous versions, which required fairly detailed configuration.

Microsoft has taken good advantage of the fact that its product runs in a single, homogeneous environment, especially in the area of Web server integration. The product requires the installation of Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) with Active Server Pages to be able to provide Web access to the Exchange information stores. However, given that platform, the integration is essentially seamless.

The Web browser-based version of the Outlook client looks and acts very much like the slightly revved dedicated client (Out-look97) that comes with the Exchange server.

However, this led to a problem for some of our end-user testers. One user, familiar with the dedicated client, became confused when the Web-based version didn't do some things she was used to seeing, such as automatic screen updates after sending a message or scheduling an appointment.

The only major problem we encountered was when, late in the testing cycle, the creation of new mail messages through the Web interface began to fail. Microsoft technical support determined that the problem was the result of a damaged file, but time constraints didn't allow us to restore the file and retest that function.

Novell's GroupWise 5.2

List price: $5763 (includes server and 25 licences)Overall: Some good features and functions, but getting them all to cooperate isn't easy. The continued need for NDS will probably keep this a niche product (in existing NetWare shops, for instance).

GroupWise brings some interesting features to the table, including nice calendar functions and one of the better jobs of mimicking its dedicated client with a Web interface. The experience was marred, though, by the fact that GroupWise was the most intractable of the products to install and configure.

In our test, we chose to install most of the services for GroupWise to run on the NetWare server, seeking to create the greatest consistency of environment possible. Unfortunately, that turned out to require the downloading of multiple NetWare patches from the Internet, as well as no less than seven reboots of the NetWare server before we finished.

As with Microsoft Exchange, the view is that message transportation is the core of information sharing. The most visible changes are in the parts of the product designed to carry information across the Internet.

Lotus' Domino Server 4.6

List price: $3975 (includes server and 22 Notes licences)Overall: The program takes up a lot of space and is slow to manoeuvre. The multiplatform nature continues to make Domino and Notes appealing to large organisations but may also keep the products out of smaller organisations.

Domino won our "Most Improved" award for its installation program, which has been reduced from a complex series of screens to a four-step Web browser process with simple option selections. Unfortunately, it falls short at the end of the process, giving the installer three paths by which to exit the installation but offering no guidance as to which path should be taken in which circumstance.

Like Micro-soft, Lotus has done an excellent job of bundling the setup of the key Internet pieces, which had previously been add-ons. The installation of such items as the POP3 services or the SMTP Message Transfer Agent are now handled with just a mouse click during the setup. However, such things as configuring new users are still somewhat more complex than we liked. We were surprised to see that this version didn't add Notes user configuration functions to the NT User Manager, like version 4.5.

Netscape's SuiteSpot 3.1

List price: $6433 (includes server and 50 licences)Overall: The component approach may have some market appeal, but we found it somewhat confusing. Trying to figure out in what part of the "suite" you accomplished various goals was sometimes fuzzy.

Netscape's SuiteSpot represented a significantly different view of the groupware marketplace from the other products we tested. Essentially a collection of separate Internet applications, SuiteSpot provides a component approach to services. That allows a company to field only those elements it wants, which, for some, may be a great benefit. We found, however, that it also gener-ated significant confusion.

The SuiteSpot Standard Edition package we tested included the Enterprise Server, Calendar Server, Messaging Server, Collabra Server and Netscape Directory Server. The integrated Web browser-based management provided with SuiteSpot went a long way toward easing some of the potential woes of managing such a group of disparate applications. Netscape has done a good job of encapsulating the various elements into one central set of functions.

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