Atlas held the world quietly. One slip or shrug and everyone would suffer. Yet no one knew or even considered his presence. He was the ultimate backend process.
Like the concept of a single entity keeping the world balanced, Groupware keeps organizations working. Most people never even think about the term Groupware. As defined by something other than Wikipedia, Groupware is Software that supports multiple users working on related tasks in local and remote networks. Also called collaborative software, groupware is an evolving concept that is more than just multiuser software which allows access to the same data. Groupware provides a mechanism that helps users coordinate and keep track of ongoing projects together ~ PC Magazine.
Groupware is communication. It is email, shared calendars, project planning and tracking, discussion groups/forums, etc. It is the core system that connects people in an organization.
Many schools now are using Google Apps for Education as their Groupware. It is basically free, and works well. Google Apps is not available everywhere so not always an option.
Microsoft also has various plans for school using their Office 365 package and some other tech. There are free and paid versions of the MS solutions.
Then there is the very common Microsoft Exchange Server, which people often think is Microsoft Outlook; not understanding the difference between the server and the client. Exchange server can easily cost a medium sized organization $30,000 – $50,000 USD a year. Yes, per year.Novell and IBM both have solutions, and both are expensive.
Cloud Options like Microsoft Exchange in the Cloud and Zoho Office with Email cost about $4.00-$8.00 per user a month. For those of you who hate math that is about $24,000 USD a year for 500 users- the low end of that range.
Opensource you ask? Good luck. I found one that was fairly well reviewed and looked promising, SOGo. SOGo was not well documented really. It was fair, but basically left me realizing that I would need a person working on it all the time. So the software is free, but the level of human capital would be very high and could cost an additional salary.
Firstclass was also on the list. I know of many schools that use it. Firstclass had the best pricing model for the feature set. The only real issue is that Firstclass has it’s own clients. So people need to transition from MS Outlook, which they currently believe is Groupware, even though there is no server behind it running anything other than email.
Not many affordable options, but there is no option to not have the Groupware. I have been witnessing a medium sized organization running without any Groupware. A Google Apps for Education campus, or a campus powered by Exchange Server, feels like a different universe compared to a campus that is missing this core software infrastructure.
Having only the one tool, email, is just not efficient. Many people in environments running decent Groupware take it for granted. They will often emote, “I only need email.” What they do not realize is that email is probably just their main notification medium. They are using other software that is nicely integrated so the email client allows them to make choices and join activities, but the email it self is doing very little.
I wish companies like Novell and IBM actually has some educational pricing that made since for their Groupware. I also am annoyed that Apple does not have an Education Server that comes with all these services PLUS easy to use i-Device management, laptop management, and App Store deployment. With all the equipment Apple has in schools, you would think they would want some of the Groupware market and server market. I know that for large companies Apple does not have what they need to power their collaboration and high-end applications.
That being said, schools need solutions that focus on simple collaboration, media sharing and streaming, basic cloud support for storage, and a semi-turnkey approach to hardware. Isn’t that what Apple is all about in each of their individual product lines?
The only other player in the market that could crack the Groupware issue and device management issue is Canonical. Their Ubuntu server is pretty easy to run and has the tools needed for easy management of media, normal files, and Groupware. They just need a package that ships with something like SOGo preconfigured. In fact, they should join up with some open hardware companies, or a normal market player like Dell and sell a configured server for schools. Crazy right? A company making money and filling a need at a reasonable price.
Bringing this all back to Atlas the Titan, there is a quote from the book Atlas Shrugged that makes me think about the supply and demand of resources for education,
“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – What would you tell him?”
I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”
Maybe we just need a Kickstarter.