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Workgroup Computing Today

Recently, there has been a flurry of activity in the groupware arena. Windows NT Magazine wanted to know exactly what the different vendors mean when they call their products "groupware" and which groupware application for Windows NT best suits the needs of today's companies. So we talked with Tim Dempsey, Director of Lotus Notes Marketing, Greg Lobdell, Product Manager for Microsoft Exchange, and Steve Richard, Product Marketing Manager for Collabra Share. We thought you might be interested in their responses.

edited by Jane Morrill

What is your product and what does it do?

Lotus: Lotus Notes is a platform for developing and deploying the client/server applications that structure information flow in the enterprise. It helps you to communicate, collaborate, and coordinate key business processes. Notes includes email but goes far beyond it. It enables you to share the collective intelligence found in word processing documents, email messages, and faxes.

Microsoft: Microsoft Exchange Server is an email server integrated with groupware. It provides messaging with an easy-to-use interface to integrate email, group scheduling, and workgroup applications. Exchange Server is scaleable and provides a client/server base with a distributed infrastructure, making it easier to design and integrate workgroup applications.

Collabra: Collabra Share is a group-conferencing product that enables you to share information and electronic discussions. Discussion forums allow you to discuss key issues, solicit input, communicate decisions, and store important documents. Share enhances team communications, allows continuous distribution of information, and reduces email overload and voice mail.

What is the single biggest enterprise problem your product addresses?

Lotus: Notes helps you manage document-oriented information. Many business processes from account management to customer-service tracking to policy management share this problem. Notes provides a distributed document database as a solution.

Microsoft: For administrators, Exchange Server provides administrative control thus lowering the cost of maintenance. For end users, Exchange Client provides a universal in-box for all types of information: email messages, faxes, voice-mail messages, documents, etc.

Collabra: Share addresses the problem of arranging frequent and meaningful interaction among large, busy, dispersed, and often traveling workgroups.

How large a system do I need before I consider your product?

Lotus: People use Notes in environments ranging from one individual connected to a public network to corporations with tens of thousands of employees using it for enterprise applications. So it really doesn't matter. Whether Notes is right for you depends on what you need to do, not on how many of you there are.

Microsoft: Exchange Server can benefit a two-person partnership, as well as an enterprise with hundreds of thousands of users. Email, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)/Internet Mail exchange, easy administration, information sharing, and "no code" application development are important to the small companies. For the large organizations, Exchange's connectivity and administration features are the focus.

Collabra: It makes sense to consider Share when LAN-based email is installed and you want to improve productivity, decision making, or quality by increasing teamwork. You can use our product with as few as 10 users or as many as thousands.

How scaleable is your product?

Lotus: One of Notes greatest strengths is its scaleability. There are several Notes installations in place today with over 30,000 users. In Release 4, to be delivered at the end of this year, Lotus has implemented a number of scaleability features, including larger directory support, larger database support, greater user support per server, and improved support of symmetric multiprocessor (SMP) systems. Improving the scaleability of Notes continues to be a top priority at Lotus.

Microsoft: It's difficult to determine the maximum number of users per Exchange Server, especially in a lab environment, without using such tools as simulators. Actual customer usage or vendor figures are often used to determine the maximum. The other variable in the equation is the configuration of the machine used. Microsoft will continue to work on improving the scaleability of the product between now and the time it is shipped.

Collabra: Share supports hundreds of users per server. It's designed to be scaleable across a large enterprise with thousands of users, using enterprise-strength replication to keep forums synchronized at different locations and employing administrator tools that allow you to perform most configuration, monitoring, and control centrally. Share has a registry that contains all of the enterprise's configuration information. It is automatically replicated between different sites. Share also has a Policy-Based Replication feature that allows you to configure replication across an enterprise from a single location.

Speaking of replication, what kind of replication does your system use?

Lotus: Notes provides synchronous remote procedure call (RPC)-based replication which works reliably even in complex configurations. It's bi-directional--changes can flow both ways--and done at the document level. It provides server-to-user as well as server-to-server replication so you can take your work with you. Notes' replication can even be selective, allowing you to take only specific information, if you wish. It can be peer-to-peer between servers, hub-to-spoke, or any mixture of replication styles. Release 4 will allow field-level replication, which reduces conflicts in bi-directional systems because it can "merge" separately changed fields of the same document.

Microsoft: Exchange Server enables you to have multiple synchronized copies of Public Folders in different locations no matter how you are connected. Synchronized copies of a folder can reside on different servers, distributing the processing load and improving response time. They can reside at different sites, reducing the amount of long-distance traffic needed to access data. If a server holding one copy of a folder becomes unavailable, other servers can be accessed transparently. Replication uses Exchange Server's fault-tolerant messaging infrastructure. Administrators only need to select which servers receive replicas of the folders, but they can also control when replication occurs and how information is distributed, if they wish.

Collabra: Share has implemented replication using email as the transport. This approach lets you replicate information to any location you can send an email message to. It's indispensable for collaborating with partners, via the Internet, and with remote sites, that aren't connected to the corporate LAN. In addition, it enables you to utilize your existing email infrastructure instead of building a new replication infrastructure. You can leverage the existing message routing, message-transfer protocols, message gateways, encryption, modems, and email-management tools for replicating.

What enabling technologies do you offer to remote/laptop users?

Lotus: Notes can replicate applications to remote PCs or laptops, so you can use your applications the same as you would in the office--creating, editing, or deleting documents and mail messages. Local databases are synchronized with the office server and mail messages are routed at a later time. Mail resides both on the server and locally, so you don't have to manage it manually, and you can use different computers without losing your mail. Selective replication, large-document truncation, and optional purge intervals help you to manage your disk space and connection time. Also, Release 4 will add usability features specifically for mobile users--selectable locations at which to store desktop and communications preferences, a Replicator interface to simplify that process, and a server "passthrough" capability so a single phone call can reach multiple servers.

Microsoft: Exchange supports remote users transparently: The client is remotely enabled without any additional software. And multiple user profiles enable you to switch from a LAN to Remote-ISDN to a remote modem painlessly.

Collabra: Share is designed to work with Remote Node solutions, such as Shiva, Remote Access Service (RAS), and NetWare Connect. The Share Client/ Server Edition, which is optimized for remote connections, minimizes the amount of data that needs to be transmitted over a dial-up connection by submitting only high-level requests to the server. This approach translates into good performance using a standard 14.4K bps modem. Share optimizes remote performance by preloading the next page of data in the background and handling attachments and embedded objects intelligently. If an embedded object is detected while using a low-speed line, it is displayed as a box with its size indicated. Then, you can view the embedded object by double-clicking on the box.

How does your product help end users?

Lotus: Notes helps average end users by providing a platform with which they can communicate with one another, collaborate on projects or issues, and coordinate processes and workflow. It can help them achieve their business objectives.

Microsoft: Exchange provides end users with email, a universal in-box, enterprise-wide directory services, group scheduling, discussion forums, document sharing, and integration with Microsoft Office applications.

Collabra: Share gives average end users the tools they need to combat information overload. It enables them to ignore discussions, view documents at a later time, and keep hot lists of important documents.

How does your product help systems administrators?

Lotus: Notes reduces systems administration efforts by providing central administration and system monitoring and by reducing backup requirements. In addition, Notes can automate the administration procedures you need to manage an IT infrastructure, including workflow.

Microsoft: Exchange Server provides single-seat administration of the enterprise messaging system, replication to support groupware types of applications, tight integration with the security features of Windows NT Server, reactive and proactive tools for monitoring and troubleshooting, on-line backup, and more.

Collabra: Share includes Policy-Based Administration and Replication. It enables you to specify policies, such as the maximum size of a forum, that are acted on automatically, reducing the need for periodic maintenance. It also enables you to set up forums to discuss things related to IS tasks.

We've heard the phrase, "single-seat administration" mentioned. Does your program allow a "single point of control," and who is needed to administer it?

Lotus: One or more administrators can manage Notes as one or more separately managed, but contiguous, entities. NotesView allows you to manage and monitor all platforms graphically from a single management station, controlling an enterprise-wide environment. NotesView also provides Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) support for network monitoring.The Name & Address book handles user and group administration, system configuration, and alert tracking. It can be changed anywhere, and, because it's a Notes database, the changes will be replicated to all the servers. In addition, you can administer Notes remotely from a laptop.

Microsoft: One or more people can manage the administrative load centrally. Since Exchange Server is built on the NT security model, you can assign different tasks to different people by granting them different rights. Administrative tasks, such as distribution-lists management, can even be delegated to end users. Exchange Server delivers a single view of any company, reducing the administrative overlap of services, mailboxes, Public Folders, distribution lists, and gateways. Exchange Server also offers graphical system tools, automatic routing, and automatic directory replication. Its built-in monitors continually monitor system status and can notify you if certain conditions occur. You can also define procedures that automatically restart services and server machines so you can identify and resolve potential problems before they occur.

Collabra: There are two basic administrative functions with Share: administrators and moderators. Administrators deal with enterprise configuration, maintenance, and replication. These functions can be performed by one or more persons from any Share client using Policy-Based Administration and Replication. Moderators set up forums, select participants, and manage forum content. These functions can also be performed centrally. Share is integrated with common administrative tools, such as those found on NT, to make management easier.

What kind of migration strategies do you provide?

Lotus: We believe customers are looking not only for migration strategies, but for coexistence support as well. We provide coexistence between cc:Mail environments through the Lotus Mail Exchange Facility (LMEF). To migrate to Notes from cc:Mail, LMEF also provides mailbox conversion. The Lotus Messaging Switch, formerly Soft*Switch EMX, provides connectivity to dozens of host- and LAN-based systems. For Release 4, we are building migration tools for a number of mail environments. We have also helped to train thousands of system integrators and consultants in migration to Notes environments.

Microsoft: Exchange Server includes a number of migration tools that automate the process of moving from various legacy email systems, both LAN-based and host-based. Exchange Server Beta 2 includes the following Migration Wizards: Microsoft Mail for PC Networks, Microsoft Mail for AppleTalk Networks, and IBM PROFS. Migration Wizards for Lotus cc:Mail, Verimation Memo, and Digital's All-in-1 are under development.

Collabra: Share helps users migrate from existing messaging systems, such as Lotus cc:Mail, Microsoft Mail, and Novell GroupWise XTD, to new client/server messaging systems, such as Microsoft Exchange and GroupWise XTD, by providing group conferencing across both generations of products.

Do you plan to compete directly or to integrate and coexist?

Lotus: Most comparisons mistake a component of groupware, such as email or a discussion facility, for the whole package which includes messaging and groupware. Notes is the only product out there that combines a distributed document database, an integrated messaging system, and an application-development environment for enterprise-wide communications, collaboration, and coordination. And because Notes is open and a cross-platform product, we can integrate a wide variety of products with it, including Collabra Share and Microsoft Exchange.

Microsoft: One of the biggest challenges we face is migration from and coexistence with existing messaging systems. Our customers need bulletproof migration tools, as well as interoperability with existing messaging systems. We will provide connectivity tools for native connectors, such as the Microsoft Mail Connector, Internet Mail Connector (which supports RFC 821, 822, 1521 (MIME)), and X.400 Connector (1984 and 1988 specifications), as well as migration tools for legacy systems, such as IBM PROFS, Digital's All-in-One, Verimation Memo, and Lotus cc:Mail.

Collabra: Share is a mail-enabled application designed to be complementary with popular LAN-based email systems, including Microsoft Exchange and, possibly, Lotus Notes. It currently works with any email system that supports Vendor-Independent Messaging (VIM) or Messaging Applications Programming Interface (MAPI). In the future, Share will also work with messaging and groupware platforms that support MAPI 1.0.

What unique opportunities does your product bring to the application developer?

Lotus: You can develop applications within Notes. Although you can also use tools such as Visual Basic (VB), C, ViP for Notes, PowerBuilder, and SQL/Windows, you don't need to. You can build cross-platform applications directly within the Notes client and deploy them via replication. (Mobile workers also receive application updates by replication.) These applications are available to all Notes clients without needing to be compiled. Notes also supports reusable components: Forms and views can be shared among applications; and field descriptions can be shared between forms. Release 4 will also support shareable subforms. In addition, you can integrate applications with desktop products via Object Linking and Embedding (OLE), VIM, Common Mail Calls (CMC), and Notes/FX. Release 4 includes a cross-platform, object-oriented, ANSI-BASIC-compatible scripting language called LotusScript. This language exposes an object model which can be used to develop event-driven applications. The GUI control is also improved through Navigators, an action bar, hot spots, and layout regions.

Microsoft: The Exchange Forms Designer is a GUI design tool that allows application authors to "paint" their forms on the screen. When a form is complete, the author compiles and installs it into a Form Library so that it can be used. The Forms Designer is a complete package which can create both stand-alone and Public Folder applications, and runtime support for them is built into Exchange Client. It generates forms based on VB, yet you don't need to know VB to design, compile, and install them. However, if you do know VB, you can make custom extensions to Exchange forms. Microsoft also provides a number of features to enable developers to enhance an Exchange implementation--menu customization, a rich object store, MAPI programmability, and OLE Automation through OLE messaging and scheduling.

Collabra: Collabra does not actively market to application developers. However, developers can "populate" Share forums using VIM or MAPI, which are familiar to most developers of mail-enabled applications.

How does your product fit in with OLE's component-based architecture?

Lotus: Notes acts as an OLE client for embedding OLE objects into Notes documents. In addition, OLE objects can be embedded into Notes design elements such as forms. Using OLE in combination with the Notes/FX open extensions, you can map OLE object contents to Notes fields for alternative workflow applications. Release 4 supports OLE 2 as both an OLE client and an OLE server, as well as features like edit-in-place, drag-and-drop, and OLE Automation.

Microsoft: Exchange supports OLE in every way, both internally and programmatically.

Collabra: Share is fully OLE-compatible. It supports the viewing and activation of OLE 1 and OLE 2 objects. It also acts as an OLE server, including pointers to Share documents in other types of applications.

How open is your product to allowing developers to utilize its infrastructure to create new, layered workgroup applications?

Lotus: Notes supports mail interfaces, such as VIM, CMC, and, with Release 4, MAPI 1.0. It also supports data access through HiTest C API, ODBC, Lotus Data Tools, OLE, server-based data-transfer tools, VB, ViP for Notes, PowerBuilder, and SQL/Windows. Notes provides integration via OLE 2, LotusScript Data Objects, HiTest C++ API, and tools built with LotusScript. Integration is not limited to mail-based APIs and platform-specific automation.

Microsoft: Developers can utilize OLE interfaces as well as the industry-standard MAPI to gain access to information contained within the Exchange Server store. In addition, the Exchange Forms Designer generates VB code that can be leveraged by any VB or Visual C++ developer.

Collabra: Since Share is more of a workgroup application than an infrastructure, an API has intentionally not been exposed. However, documents can be loaded into Share using the APIs provided by the mail infrastructure, including VIM and MAPI. In the future, developers will be able to utilize MAPI 1.0 to manipulate data stored in the messaging/groupware infrastructure.

Where do you see your product going over the next five years?

Lotus: We expect Notes to continue to evolve as an environment in which you can accomplish your work, communicate with one another, and find the information you need. Corporate developers will be developing business applications directly in Notes, rather than with operating-system-dependent tools. And we expect Notes to come into wider use on public networks, including the Internet, to connect customers, suppliers, and business partners.

Microsoft: We think that Exchange will evolve to become easier for end users to use and easier and more powerful for administrators to manage their infrastructure. Exchange will be more integrated into the NT Directory and will take advantage of new system services and platforms.

Collabra: Collabra's mission is to help you interact more richly, more completely, and more efficiently by extending your existing messaging system. With these goals in mind, we expect to evolve Share to be tightly integrated with next-generation messaging systems, such as Microsoft Exchange and Novell GroupWise XTD. Collabra also plans to continue to develop new and innovative tools to help team members collaborate.

See the sidebar, "Backward Compatibility and Interoperability".

\[Editor's Note: At press time, Netscape Communications announced its intent to purchase Collabra Software.\]

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