In my ‘real’ job as a sysadmin, one of the most critical tools I have is
groupware, i.e. email, contacts, calendaring, tasks — and the ability to
have all of them relate to each other.
I use, on a fairly regular basis, Microsoft’s Entourage and Outlook,
Evolution, Outlook Web Access, and Goodlink on my Sprint PPC-6600 Pocket PC
phone. Obviously, multiple groupware clients on multiple platforms are
not a problem. I find they all work really well with our server of
choice: Microsoft Exchange.
Now, as a Mac writer, it probably borders on heresy for me to be using
Exchange, or to be as happy with it as I generally am. ”John, why aren’t
you using something that runs on Mac OS X? Well, I’d like to, but at the
moment, there aren’t any mature groupware servers that run on Mac OS X
that support enterprise groupware’s range of needs. Note… I said
There are some products that come close for a subset of those features.
Kerio Mail Server has both Outlook
and Entourage support, and I’d hazard you could get Evolution to work
with it. It has an excellent Web interface, and even a Web interface
designed for handhelds. But, the current version has some issues
integrating with Open Directory and it can’t push mail and other info
onto handhelds. Web interfaces, even tuned, minimalist ones, are not the
kind of thing you want to use on a handheld.
Open-Xchange has a great deal
of potential, but it’s not something I could develop into an SMB with a
couple hundred clients without spending a lot of time on the installation
and configuration — far beyond what I’d need with Exchange. Most of the
rest are either still too finished to really be useful, or Web-only.
Communigate Pro only supports
Windows groupware clients. Now
Up-To-Date and Contact require their own clients, don’t support a
wide range of handhelds, have no email options, and cannot integrate with
either Active Directory or Open Directory. Meeting Maker has good support
for handhelds and Outlook, but if you aren’t on Windows, you have to use
their client and you still need a separate product for email support.
If you need the kind of groupware functionality you get from the Exchange
ecosystem, there’s really nothing for you on Mac OS X, and that’s a real
problem for Apple which is trying to gain traction in the Enterprise.
Groupware is a mission-critical need in corporate America. The ability
to have your email, contacts, events, scheduling and tasks all working
together is no longer a luxury of the Fortune 500. While things like
iCal, and Web client-only systems may work for a select few, in a modern
enterprise it’s not going to play. Things like delegation, public
folders, real handheld support, instant messaging integration and the
rest are not ‘highfalutin’ options anymore. They’re basic functions that
an enterprise needs to coordinate the functions of its people.
And every time Apple has to throw up its hands when asked about groupware
and admit that its only calendaring solution is .Mac, they lose a lot of
credibility outside of the server room.
Web-only clients aren’t going to cut it, either. Yes, yes, AJAX is a
wonderful thing, but when I’m not on my network, I can’t use it. When I
don’t have a connection available, VPNs are useless. The truth is, while
Web clients have improved by leaps and bounds, there are times that you
still need to be able to work in a disconnected state, and for that you
need a fat client.
Groupware is one of the biggest holes in Apple’s Enterprise offerings.
There’s nothing out there that runs on Mac OS X that you can use to
replace Exchange, or Domino, or Groupwise. Apple offers a solid email
solution, and a good directory service, but that’s it. There’s no
calendaring, and if you aren’t on Mac OS X 10.4 Server, good luck with
using network address books. That’s just not going to cut it.
Handheld integration in OS X still is stuck back in the manual sync
era. While on Windows, thanks to companies like R.I.M, and products like
GoodLink, you never have to connect your handheld to the network to
integrate it with Exchange. (GoodLink’s setup is one of the simplest and
best I’ve ever seen… ”Did you get the GoodLink email? Do what it
says.” Ten to 20 minutes later, it’s done, and if the handheld is lost,
you can remotely remove all of GoodLink’s data and info from it.)
I know that at my company, we literally could not function without the
Exchange feature set. Ironically, one of the most hated tasks we have is
dealing with Exchange CALs. They’re a perpetual hand in our pocket,
taking our money ad infinitum. But any time we’ve looked for an
alternative, there’s nothing close on OS X, and very little options even
on Windows or Linux — nothing good enough to warrant switching.
If Apple were to come up with a solid groupware solution with a rich
feature set, and, instead of trying to dictate client, offered multiple
connection points, (WeBDAV, Microsoft’s HTTP-DAV, OWA, the upcoming Web
Services connections that will be in the next major version of Exchange,
etc.), and push client support for handhelds, that would be a serious
product for them. If you could plug Outlook, Evolution, Entourage, Web
clients, and smartphones into a groupware solution that ran on OS X, and
get Exchange-level functionality from it, without the onerous overhead of
CALs, but with support for various directory services via Open Directory,
that would be something that would appeal to a lot of companies in the
If Apple were to provide an easy-to-use management and administration
interface, and no-brainer integration with Kerberos and SSL, then you
have a solution that smaller businesses and even schools could use. Make
sure it has an open, well-documented API, and you have a solution that
can create its own ecosystem that can be customized. (The extensibility
of Exchange and Outlook are a major reason for their success. Without it,
companies like Goodlink would have a much harder time of it.)
By concentrating on creating a ”universal server” that was robust,
feature-rich, scaled well, had an open, documented API, had client
neutral handheld support, and didn’t charge you by the client, Apple
would have a solution that would be a real competitor to Exchange. And
that’s something a lot of companies would love, especially when it comes
time to get more Exchange CALs or upgrade existing CALs.
The truth is, the groupware market isn’t saturated by any means. Exchange
is the dominant player, but that’s more because everyone else is too
expensive, too hard to set up and manage, and has overly limited client
support. It’s also because they lack the feature set and extensibility
that enterprise-ready groupware needs.
I know a lot of companies that regularly evaluate competitors to
Exchange, but other than Domino, GroupWise or possibly Oracle
Collaboration suite, there really aren’t any. And on Mac OS X, there are
none. The opportunity is there. It’s rich, and it’s waiting for someone
to ‘Think Different.
It’s only a matter of time before someone does, and it would be silly if
the first enterprise-ready groupware solution on Mac OS X didn’t come