Playing in the Collaborative Apps Space With Teamware
Teamware Office: Groupware suite for collaboration
Networking computers together is easy networking people is hard. The very nature of "collaboration" suites speaks to the struggle of integrating the various activities people engage in when working together, from basic messaging to coordinating schedules and sharing documents. Consequently, most office collaboration servers are somewhat hairy beasts, imperfect almost by definition.
Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino are the big boys in this arena, but a number of alternative collaboration servers are out there, including Teamware Office, from Finland-based Teamware Group. Teamware Office is a cross-platform collaboration server, available for Windows, Solaris, and Linux operating systems. The Teamware Office server for Windows is a 45 MB download that consumes 125 MB of disk space on initial installation.
The setup and installation of Teamware Office was not without rocky moments for us. Our biggest issue was that the installer puts the server on the C: drive without asking. This kind of hardcoded behavior was especially odd in light of the fact that on our evaluation system the C: drive is not even the Windows installation drive (which is D:), but simply a small temp partition.
Following installation, Teamware Office must be configured using a DOS-based command line tool that we did not find at all intuitive. The supporting documentation is reasonably helpful here, but many of the items in the configuration are awkwardly labeled and sometimes unclear. Proceeding through a series of text menus, you can register your server's license, set up the network transport options, and choose and configure server modules. It would be a big improvement for such a fundamental configuration procedure to be available with a well-designed graphical interface.
Teamware Office is a modular product, meaning that each of its collaborative functions directory, notifier, mail, calendar, library, forum, enhancements, Web service, and administration are little applications unto themselves. There are pros and cons to this approach. On the one hand, this modular design makes Teamware Office highly flexible for the admin who wants to tailor the collaboration server to his or her organization's needs. On the other hand, this architecture results in a suite that at times feels more like a string of tiny islands rather than a unified nation.
Office users have access to the standard collaboration suite tools. The mail module supports both Internet e-mail and intranet messaging. Users can keep on top of things with both the calendar, which provides systemwide coordination of group activities, and the notifier, which alerts individuals to upcoming activities or particular events. There is a forum for collecting organized group discussions and a library for sharing documents with access and version controls. While Teamware offers local clients access to these modules, they are also available via a standard Web browser through what Teamware calls the "Web service."
This is a great feature, as it means that Office users can access and participate in the suite from literally anywhere. We were also pleased to see that the Web service supports SSL2 for secure connections.
Teamware clearly intends for Office to feel open rather than claustrophobic to users. For example, e-mail messages can be accessed from outside the suite using standard POP3 and IMAP4 clients, and forum messages can be delivered via NNTP to dedicated newsreaders. Ultimately, however, this very open design is a double-edged sword: While Office is highly adaptable, it left us feeling somewhat loose.
Pros: Highly configurable modular design; Cross-platform support; Competitive pricing for this niche; Web-based access and manageability option.
Cons: Obtuse installation and configuration; Lack of clarity in supporting documentation; Somewhat loose suite integration.
Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 5/26/2004
Original Review Version: 6