collects stories and ideas from John Kelly

Open-Source groupware

Something that’s come up quite a bit in work recently has been the idea that we need groupware. What we specifically need is:

  1. shared address book
  2. shared calendar
  3. shared mail directories

The third of these, we’ve managed to hack together using courier-imap. Unfortunately for us, most of our users are very reluctant to move away from POP3, so they’re largely unaware of the availability of this really cool technology.

The second of these, we’ve… well… sort of managed to hack together. Using Outlook 2000/XP/2003’s Free-Busy publishing tool, our users publish to a shared folder which they can all read from. I even wrote a nifty little hack for our ‘resources’ (meeting room, projector, etc.). But one of the limitations of the free-busy information is that it doesn’t list the reason for being busy. It wil just say “John is busy from 10am until 11pm tomorrow”, not “John is in a meeting with Jane and Bob from 10am until 11pm in Meeting Room 1”. So again, this gets underused.

Playing about with Mozilla’s Calendar, we have a tool that does what we want, and allows us to share calendars amongst a team. And it does it all using open standards, so we can get in there and hack around it, if we want. Unfortunately, Sunbird (the codename for the calendar software) is still at a very early stage (0.0.2?), and is barely-usable. Definitely not usable within a production environment.

Shared address books? Nightmare. We have a company-wide address book, with all our email addresses in LDAP (one of these days I’ll get around to integrating this with Sendmail, I promise). But we can’t add to this remotely. Perhaps we can, and I just haven’t figured out how yet. Either way, we need something better.

Yesterday, a crazy thought entered my head. Bear with me, because it sounds a little ‘out there’. Would it be possible to remove Outlook completely, and have everyone work through a ‘thin-client’ (read: browser-based) solution? We already provide a much-loved web interface to mail (using the horde application framework), so would it be possible to extend this some more? Horde offer a module that lets people browse CVS, which I’m sure will appeal to developers. It also allows them to set up filtering rules and vacation notices and, and, and…

Well, this is useless. Of course I can see the advantages of it. I’m already sold on it. Based on their reluctance to give up POP3, I’m worried about how reluctant they’d be to give up their Outlook. People get remarkably attached to their email.