Twenty years ago, groupware – software that combined e-mail, calendaring, information sharing, and other collaborative activities – seemed to offer a promise of unlimited productivity. And in fact applications like Lotus Notes did help many organizations. Today, technology like the Web and wikis have made collaboration much easier, so yesterday’s groupware has changed with the times. One shining example is Group-Office, which offers a suite of tools that includes shared calendars, projects, time registration, file sharing, tasks, and a billing application.
Group-Office comes in two version: Professional and Community. Most people download and employ the free, open source Community version, according to Dutch developer Merijn Schering, who owner Intermesh, the company responsible for Group-Office. The Professional version includes extra modules that let users synchronize data with mobile devices, perform project management, send newsletters, integrate with office software, and do online file editing (see comparison). Schering says the company sells about 200 Professional packages per year. There’s also a hosted version that’s identical to the Professional version, where Intermesh maintains an organization’s data for a monthly fee based on number of users and disk space usage.
“I decided to make some modules that are particularly interesting for businesses commercial,” Schering says, “because otherwise it would be impossible to keep our business alive. Ideally everything should be open source, but that wouldn’t make enough money to pay for our expenses.”
All the versions of Group-Office share a friendly, intuitive user interface, and the software can use LDAP or IMAP for authentication.
Schering began working on what eventually became Group-Office in 2002 when the mechanical engineering company he worked for needed to put drawings online “so we and our customers could get the technical drawings from the Internet. After that was completed I started to add stuff like an address book and simple mail client, and we called it Group-Office. In 2003 the economy wasn’t very good and we stopped with this company. I asked my colleagues if they would agree to offer Group-Office as open source on SourceForge.net. When we did that I started to get a lot of positive feedback on the project, and get some business out of it, so I decided to forget about mechanical engineering and launched Intermesh, which today employs three programmers and one designer.” The company also receive patches and translations from the community.
The roadmap for future versions includes plans to make Group-Office communicate better with other software – “for example, to link with web meeting software or VOIP solutions. We also want to improve the existing links system with automatic linking of e-mails, and we are developing a Z-push ActiveSync back end.”