by Steve Gillmor If you want to employ groupware on the Web, and you're in a Microsoft-centric shop, you're in for a surprise: the best tool today may come from IBM's Lotus division, not Microsoft. But don't worry. I'm not saying that you have to adopt Lotus Domino/Notes and their somewhat arcane development environment. But you might want to try Lotus QuickPlace. Limitations notwithstanding (more on those later), it will get your Web-based groupware up and running with dispatch, just as the name implies. QuickPlace is a teamware server platform powered by Domino that discards the Notes desktop, Designer, and Administrator clients in favor of a standard Web browser. So it takes advantage of but does not bury you in the Lotus Domino/Notes platform. And most groupware analysts still agree that the Domino/Notes platform has held onto its technological lead over Microsoft Exchange Server. Though Exchange has overtaken Domino in sales in recent months, developers give the Lotus product the edge in developing sophisticated groupware applications. Notes developers can take advantage of a development environment built from the ground up to deliver messaging, workflow, and rich integration with Windows desktops. And the addition of Domino's interactive Web services probably saved Notes from the scrap heap. Now, with high-speed bandwidth becoming an easily obtained commodity, groupware apps are migrating the rest of the way to the Web. Domino/Notes Release 5 lets you develop apps that use both native Notes clients and standard Web browsers, but this still requires expensive Notes programming and administrative skills. With Microsoft's Exchange Platinum upgrade coming soon after Windows 2000 ships, the total Domino environment remains an easy choice only for committed Notes shops. Third-party support does sweeten the pot a bit. The Domino platform hosts several third-party teamware products, notably Changepoint's Involv Intranet. In addition, the new Domino release includes the Instant!TEAMROOM application template originally developed as the Teamroom hosted app, updated to take advantage of Release 5 Web features. Lotus also shipped a separate synchronous communications product, Sametime, bringing advanced instant messaging, group chat, awareness, and application sharing services to the party. But while Lotus and its Iris subsidiary struggled to get Release 5 out the door, a small band of Iris developers led by Release 4 architect Mussie Shore took a radical new approach to the problem of working together in the virtual world of the Internet. The result: the browser-based QuickPlace product. Can such a product really stand up against more structured rich-client products such as Instinctive's eRoom? It can with a little help from Lotus, which has added extensions to the core Domino server to make the browser a more viable container. Those extensions include rich text editing and drag-and-drop uploading, server-side graphics rendering, scene-based wizards to perform administrative and development tasks, and simplified hierarchical security based on the robust Domino architecture. Let me first tell you where QuickPlace falls short of a universal solution. First, while you may like QuickPlace's strategy of converting documents to HTML, the program lacks an efficient versioning mechanism to handle Office files in their original format. Web pages can be imported from authoring packages, but there's no real round tripping like that of Office 2000's XML-based technology. And integrating QuickPlace with an existing Domino/Notes infrastructure is not yet easily done or documented. If you don't find these limitations insurmountable, let's go on. Take QuickPlace out for a spin
| Figure 1. Clean up discussions in a hurry. Click here.|
| Figure 2. Customize new forms with a click. Click here.|
Larger companies may be more attuned to Instinctive eRoom's structured top-down management style. But I think more entrepreneurial businesses will lean toward QuickPlace's low cost and rapid development model that supports bringing virtual projects up and down quickly. That describes my client Jobscope Corporation, which provides ERP software for the make-to-order, repair and maintenance business. It offers separate versions of its product for Windows NT running SQL Server and AS/400 running DB2. The Greenville, South Carolina company uses a mix of Microsoft and IBM/Lotus technologies internally, with Office 2000 on the desktop, NT 4's IIS hosting the corporate Web site, and Domino/Notes Release 4.6 for messaging and groupware.
|New QuickPlace projects are a SNAP|
|QuickPlace shows its greatest promise in leveraging the robust programmability of the underlying Domino architecture ...|
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