by oneafrikan on August 4, 2005
There is a bit of interesting conversation about free and open source groupware apps going on at Whiprush.org, about Hula and Kolab. I started this little rabbit hole at a post on http://www.kdedevelopers.org, which made me think a little.
This (Hula, Kolab etc) is in all really cool because it both illustrates the increase in options for free and open source groupware applications, and a sense of user interface design which I feel will win more people over in the long term.
Having Novell behind Hula lends some credibility to the project, as does having some (what I can only imagine to be) demanding users. Kolab looks pretty interesting on the surface, but I think has a way to go before attracting a mainstream audience.
Would anyone disagree with that?
BUT, I’m not sure that this, in the bigger picture, is going to be enough, as I don’t see a competitor to MS Sharepoint on offer.
I may be woefully misinformed, and if I am I apologise, but there just isn’t. And this is why I think MSFT has an ace up it’s sleeve which is too compelling for the average business not to take up.
Knowing a little about what MS Sharepoint is capable of and also a little about MSFT’s plans for it in the coming 18 months to two years, combined with how the new MS Office will integrate with Sharepoint, office applications and Outlook/Exchange, I feel that FOSS catchup will be the order of the day.
Sharepoint right now still has a long way to go to be a mature product that users will love to use, because there are interface, integration, navigation, focus and paradigm issues that need to be worked on to get there, but it’s still the best option out there for what it does. Better still, you get Sharepoint Services on a Windows 2003 server box by default, so it’s a no brainer to use it within your business if you have a Windows network running. It looks like Sharepoint in 18 months will integrate better with Office and Outlook / Exchange than it does now, and will fix some of the issues mentioned above, so it’s certainly not going to get worse. At the same time, MSFT is really turning up the heat in the marketing of Sharepoint, so that also works in it’s favour.
I’m personally a believer in choice, competition and the best tool for the job, before anything, so I applaud the open source groupware apps talked about above. In the same breath, I’m worried because I think that Sharepoint will catapault MSFT to the next level in the average business environment, and it will be a while before there are any integrated, beautiful, useful, functional FOSS groupware apps that can compete in the marketplace as viable alternatives.
Remember that if a business wants to switch, there is a lot of pain involved upfront, so if MSFT gains a nice marketshare early there has to be an uber-compelling alternative to make businesses and IT managers make the switch. This could come in many forms, but I think cost will be the most motivating of all, and if you’ve already made the investment then why make the switch?
There is hope though.
Ubuntu is a desktop alternative that seems to be forging ahead in the right direction, with Gnome and KDE creating user interfaces and environments that are “good enough” for the average “non-hacker” desktop user;
there seems to be a tipping point developing around the paradigm of FOSS as a viable and trustworthy alernative to Windows / OS X, with Firefox leading the way as an example of what is possible;
apps like Open Office, Evolution, Kolab and Hula seem to be making compelling arguments for the Office / Outlook / Exchange combination;
with companies like IBM and Novell making public their support of FOSS;
Dell offering Linux as an OS on it’s machines;
and countries like Brasil and Germany choosing FOSS alternatives over Windows/MSFT alternatives for various reasons.
What do you think?
This is something that I’ve been dwelling on a lot lately, so I’m going to try and flesh this out some more over the coming months, adding links where I can. If you have any thoughts, I’d really like to hear them.