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8/11/2006
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Finally: A Java-Based, Open-Source Collaboration Suite

My first article for Collaboration Loop back in January provided an overview of various Open Source collaboration tools that can provide enterprise or small business teams with a low-cost collaboration system.  Since then, I have discovered several Java-based Open Source collaboration tools that provide good portion of an enterprise's collaboration requirements at a minimal cost.  Currently this suite is more of a vision -- implementataion takes some development and integration effort. But as stand-alone products, these tools work well to support different business processes.

The following list is not a comprehensive list of all of the Java-based Open Source collaboration tools, but provides some important components an enterprise or small to medium business may choose to implement in order to meet their collaborative requirements.

1. Liferay Portal. Liferay is a Java portal that has an AJAX interface that allows users to customize their user interface by dragging and dropping portlets.  Liferay has a good number of out-of-the-box portlets.  Specific collaboration portlets include a calendar, wiki, and blog functionality.  Liferay also has integrated with Alfresco, an open-source-content-management product.  When building a collaboration application, developers can use Liferay as their front end, which will allow the developer to take advantage of a granular-security module, skinable-user interface,  AJAX-interface framework, and portlet architecture.   

2. Alfresco. Alfresco has created an Open Source, Java-based content-management system. Currently, Alfresco is best suited for document management, but the developers are working on a full suite of content- management functionality.  Users can create team workspaces, discussion forums, set up a simple workflow, and customize templates.  Alfresco supports object-level security access and the application has a skinable interface that developers can either build upon or modify. Stay tuned for future releases of Alfresco that will allow you to manage your content in a simple and easy to use manner.

3. uEngine.  Using Liferay, Twister (an Open Source workflow engine), a workflow designer, and a form designer, a Korean engineer put together an application that allows individuals to design their own workflow that can include custom forms, IM and email reminders, other application tie-ins, and a portal interface.  Companies who would like to create their own workflow process with minimal development that includes the use of different collaboration functionality, should consider using uEngine as a way to simplify collaborative-process automation.

4. Web Huddle.  Web Huddle is the leader and pioneer in Open Source web conferencing and collaboration tools.  Enterprises can leverage Web Huddle's desktop and presentation-sharing functionality within a business process by integrating with other enterprise and collaboration applications. Additionally, Web Huddle fulfills many of the basic real-time collaboration requirements a user would expect from a web conference tool.  

5. Collanos. A cross platform peer-to-peer competitor to Groove. Collanos provides a collaboration client that was built on Eclipse and uses different Open Source components.  Users can access team workspaces, start discussions, and have IM conversations. One can also store documents, messages, IM conversations, and discussions in their workspace.  

6. Exadel.  Exadel provides a suite of development tools and a framework environment built on Eclipse.  Exadel's mission is to help developers speed up their development process; it's very similar to proprietary technologies such as Adobe Dreamweaver. The environment is also designed to help people exploit AJAX functionality and speed up AJAX development time.

Companies adopting these products could choose to use Collanos for their collaboration client and work-in-progress document management system.  With some integration, they could synchronize their files with Alfresco, which would be used as the central online data store for document and content management.  As Alfresco enhances their content management capabilities, users can use Alfresco and Liferay for their intranet, .com, and content management system.  Additionally, users can use Liferay's wiki and blog functionality for online collaboration.  For real-time collaboration needs, users can use Web Huddle, and for more custom business process requirements, users can use uEngine which should be able to tie together systems such as Collanos, Web Huddle, and Alfresco.  Optimally, Exadel should save development time, ease integration efforts, and allow developers to take advantage of AJAX to deliver an improved user experience. 

This scenario is not going to work "out of the box" -- it would require custom development and assistance from vendors.  But the costs could be more manageable and significantly lower over time, especially if your organization can build expertise in these products.  Users will need to do the evaluation and weigh the cost and benefits of this approach.  For companies that want to invest less money up front but can invest the necessary development resources, this collaboration suite could be a good starting point.     

In addition to the above technologies, you can also look into these products:

Email:

Instant Messaging:

Telephony:

Browser:

Storage/Backup: 

Companies which cannot afford expensive collaboration tools but which have development resources should consider these kinds of alternatives.  Additionally, system integrators who would like to provide customers with a suite of lower-cost collaboration tools may choose to undertake the integration.  Open Source software providers may also benefit from doing a lot of the integration because  they will be able to increase their value and expand their opportunities with existing and potentially-new customers.

I am sure you will find additional solutions that I was not able to cover in this blog.  Please feel free to share your findings in the comment space below.  The Java-based Open Source collaboration tool market is taking off.  My bet is that this segment of tools will continue to improve and new products will be added.  The continued support of integrators such as Cignix, Enomaly, and Novacoast, as well as software companies such as Novell, Sun and IBM will help solidify the suite's offering and integration between products in the suite.

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