Saturday, April 20, 2024

Without Groupware, Apple Loses Credibility

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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

SMB market.

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

from Apple.

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