Groupware Growth Remains A Tell

gpwgrThe heterogeneous environments of today’s larger corporations demand that groupware products offer cross-platform capabilities, or at least some promise of them.

Keeping that promise depends, at least partially, on vendors’ ability to agree on industry standards, says Mike Werther of BeagleSQL. As always, those wars rage on. Some vendors, however, currently support limited cross-platform capabilities within their groupware programs and are vowing farther-reaching support in the future.

The growing number and size of work groups has forced the issue of cross-platform groupware, according to John Donovan, director of groupware services at WorkGroup Technologies Inc. The Hampton, N.H., market-research firm’s figures show that last year the average work group was made up of 30 people; this year, it’s 60; and next year, it will be 70 workers, Donovan said.

“That growth rate increases the probability that users [within the same work groups] will be running on foreign platforms,” Donovan said. “That’s a tremendous increase in the pressure” on vendors to provide cross-platform capabilities.

Buyers with mixed installations want assurances that their groupware product choices will support the gamut of desktop systems, most notably DOS, Windows, Macintosh, OS/2 and Unix.

In the area of more basic groupware products, for example, Futurus Corp.’s Futurus Team runs on DOS, Windows and OS/2; a Mac product is in the making. Beyond Inc. is also working on a Mac version of its groupware offering, BeyondMail, which currently supports DOS and Windows.

Low-end products slow to appear

Blanket coverage of platforms will be slow in coming at the lower end of the market, however, according to Robert Martinson, president and CEO of Futurus, in Atlanta. “We’re seeing a little demand for the Macintosh, but it will be two to three years before we see a couple more platforms in the fray,” Martinson said.

With more sophisticated groupware products, “it’s a necessity today, because vendors are dealing with multiplatforms already installed; whereas at the lower end, [smaller corporations] just haven’t installed that plethora of platforms,” he explained.

WordPerfect Corp. hopes to capitalize on those who have installed that wide range of platforms. The company’s groupware offering, WordPerfect Office, will provide DOS, Windows and Macintosh clients in the first quarter of 1993. OS/2 and Unix clients will follow in the second quarter, according to WordPerfect officials.

Likewise, Lotus Development Corp.’s Notes, which currently supports Windows and OS/2 clients attached to OS/2 servers, will include Macintosh clients in version 3.0, scheduled to be shipped next year. Unix clients and servers will follow later that year, according to Terry Rogers, vice president of Lotus’ communication products division, in Cambridge, Mass. All clients will be interoperable with all servers, Rogers said.

Rogers added that he believes that products like Notes are filling in the cross-platform gaps left by operating systems.

“Either the operating-system suppliers are going to have to sit down and agree on all the basics that would make interoperability a possibility, or there’s going to be a need for suppliers like Lotus, who don’t make operating systems, to provide the integration,” Rogers said.

WordPerfect Office also conceals the platform differences within its own applications. David Clare, product marketing director for WordPerfect Office, said applications can transfer documents seamlessly between platforms because each application can read the file format of the received document and translate it to the format of the recipient platform.

However, Clare said, “we need [standards] to become conversant with other third-party applications.”

Several players, most notably Microsoft Corp. and a consortium that includes Apple Computer Inc., Borland International Inc., IBM, Lotus and Novell Inc., are striving to take the standards title. Microsoft’s Messaging Application Programming Interface (MAPI) and the consortium’s Vendor-Independent Messaging (VIM) specification are designed to shield the developer, and ultimately users, from platform specifics — at the same time providing interoperability.

As always, the vendors are duking it out over which standard is best.

Currently, these standards coexist, so developers will have to support both in order to cover all the bases, according to Bill Higgs, vice president of software research at InfoCorp Computer Intelligence, a market-research firm in Santa Clara, Calif.

To add to the confusion, Common Mail Calls is a proposed standard supported by the X.400 API Association and the Electronic Mail Association, both of which include most of the same vendors that support VIM and MAPI.

And when will the issues settle down? Not any time soon, analysts said.

“At this point, they are not near any resolution,” Higgs said. “We will see a period where there are a lot of shake-ups and alliances in the marketplace. We’re looking at 1995 before it’s reasonably solid.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *