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8/96 Enterprise Windows: It's a High-Stakes Race in Groupware

Build an Intranet Workgroup

A full-blown workgroup environment may be overkill for many offices. Simpler groupware solutions stick to basic routing, scheduling and information management. You can handle all these functions via an intranet-with the added bonus of a familiar interface. An intranet is a great tool for displaying up-to-date information in a one-to-many publishing scenario.

New software tools can add surprisingly advanced groupware features to a Web site. DataBeam's FarSite 2.0, for example, includes data-conferencing capabilities, supporting whiteboard collaborations and document transfers. The program is one of the first applications compliant with the recently approved T.120 conferencing standard. It costs around $99 per client.

Amicus' Community Builder development kit helps Webmasters prepare existing intranet sites for workgroups. The product can track users as they navigate links. It also adds chat forums and front-door security to the site.

You can convert a PC's shared directories into hyperlinked Web pages with Digital's Workgroup Web. Users can access documents, build group folders, attach notes, set up conferences and perform searches. The program operates on NetWare, Windows, Pathworks and LAN Manager servers. TCP/IP isn't required for Workgroup Web. Workgroup Web Forum, a more advanced product, also has polling, security, data publishing features and a software development kit. It requires an HTTP server and TCP/IP on all client machines.

Construction Crew

Thuridion's Crew, scheduled for release later this year, will be one of the Web's more ambitious groupware products. Designed for both Internet and intranet use, Crew establishes customizable home pages that handle e-mail, scheduling and file organization for each network user. Sections of pages may be secured against unauthorized access, and users can establish their own workgroups. A standard Web browser is the only client software required.

Groupware's first corporate inroads were often made with highly customized ordering and manufacturing tools. Most are now adding Web functionality. Trilogy has added Web tools, including catalog and ordering utilities, to its Selling Chain sales automation groupware, a high-end package that ranges from $1,000 to $25,000.

Premier Web developer Netscape has certainly seen the groupware light. Last year, it purchased Collabra, which makes Collabra Share groupware, and it has emphasized Web ties in subsequent product architectures.

Cracks in the Structure?

The Web's popularity is a double-edged sword. Features-and the standards to control them-evolve so rapidly that it's not unusual to see major developers release two versions of the same product within a year. Given the number of vendors, compatibility could be an issue.

While the Web is ideal for pushing information from the server to many viewers, its current toolset makes process automation and push/pull data-gathering difficult. Although Java applets should alleviate the deficiencies in enabling users to continually exchange information with the server, this technology isn't likely to hit its stride before 1997.

If you're mostly looking for e-mail, information dissemination and scheduling, consider using the one-two punch of an intranet and a customizable e-mail environment such as Exchange. You can add new collaborative programs to your network gradually. For a rich, geographically dispersed workgroup environment, however, Notes 4 still supplies the best bells and whistles.
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