Netscape offers up standards-based groupware

Netscape Communications Corp. next week will release the first beta version of Collabra Server, which provides threaded discussion groups reminiscent of proprietary groupware but based on Internet standards. Beta testers says the server's NNTP-based architecture makes it easier to use and more interoperable with other products than proprietary groupware.

Netscape Communications Corp. next week will release the first beta version of Collabra Server, which provides threaded discussion groups reminiscent of proprietary groupware but based on Internet standards.

Beta testers says the server's standards-based architecture makes it easier to use and more interoperable with other products than proprietary groupware.

But one information systems department reported that Collabra may have a tough time beating a conferencing application developed in-house for a corporate intranet.

Collabra Server uses the highly scalable Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP), which Usenet news servers use to support more than 25,000 discussion groups with message volumes of 4G to 5G bytes.

The protocol also lets administrators replicate Collabra Server's contents to other NNTP servers, specify redundant links, replicate to specific forums and define replication rules to manage network traffic.

Many of the server's administrative features are available to end users, allowing them to create, manage and moderate discussion groups. Users can also create virtual discussion groups, which automatically populate with messages from other groups based on keyword searches defined by users.

"Anything on an internal network where you can take basic administrative procedures and put them at the lowest level possible is helpful," says beta-tester Ross Skinner, manager of IS infrastructure at Del Webb Corp. in Phoenix.

Skinner says his company had evaluated proprietary groupware but instead chose to deploy software based on Internet standards.

"I can foresee [Collabra Server] as a product we'll be using," Skinner says. "[Microsoft's] Exchange had a lot of replication and management problems. Notes is better, but [Collabra Server] is more open to what I believe the standard will be, which is [Hypertext Markup Language] and the Internet."

Heather Copeland, Internet development coordinator at Pacific Enterprises in Los Angeles, reported similar frustrations with proprietary groupware. "Notes was way too expensive to spread out across the company, and it's just way too complicated," she says.

Rather than buy a shrink-wrapped product based on Internet standards, Pacific Enterprises spent US$60,000 to build its own Internet standards-based conferencing application. The application, called PE Exchange, lets end users create their own discussion groups and assign access privileges much like Collabra.

"If Collabra does everything that PE Exchange does, we might switch just because we're not a software company," Copeland says.

But Copeland says she couldn't think of features her development team hadn't been able to deliver.

"I really don't know what more I would look for," she says. "[PE Exchange] is self-maintaining, self-cleaning."

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