SmartAdvice: Check Out WebDAV For Cross-Platform Collaboration Problems - InformationWeek

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SmartAdvice: Check Out WebDAV For Cross-Platform Collaboration Problems

Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 may be the best option for cross-platform groupware collaboration, The Advisory Council says. Also, the case for switching to VoIP service is getting clearer.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to [email protected]

Question A:: What are the best E-mail and calendar server options to support a mixed Windows and Macintosh environment?

Our advice: When choosing a messaging collaboration platform that will support a mixed client environment, consider a rich set of collaboration features that will function seamlessly across platforms. Features to look for in your messaging and collaboration selection include: integration with your enterprise directory services, extensibility, secure communication, shared folder access, offline access to collaboration data, open standard protocol support, and remote Web access.

The major commercial messaging server products are IBM Domino, Microsoft Exchange Server, Novell GroupWise, and Oracle Collaboration Suite. All of these vendors market their messaging platforms as collaborative groupware that will facilitate Internet E-mail, calendaring, and remote access.

An equally important piece is the client software available on the Windows and Macintosh platforms that you will use to access the messaging system. This is the discriminating factor that separates each of the major messaging vendors. In the eyes of users, the messaging deployment is only as good as the experience derived from the collaboration client. Ease of use, rich feature sets, and interoperability should be the evaluation standards for each client.

Because of Windows dominance, there are many messaging and collaboration clients for the Windows platform, and all of the messaging platforms previously mentioned have a native Windows client. But historically the choices for the Macintosh have been limited in terms of availability and functionality.

Related Links

Exchange Server 2003

Entourage 2004



In the past, if you wanted to make a cross-platform connection from any type of messaging client (not just Macintosh) to a collaborative platform, you would have used the Internet Message Access Protocol. IMAP enables a client to connect to a mailbox, and remotely manipulate a folder structure, online and offline support, and message notification. However, IMAP lacks the extensibility mechanisms to allow new features to be added.

With the recent advent of the Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning protocol, the available software and feature options for the Macintosh have grown. WebDAV fills in the gaps which the IMAP protocol left in cross-platform groupware collaboration, with its extensibility and ease of deployment.

All of the major messaging platforms support an implementation of WebDAV. But Microsoft seems to have the most comprehensive support on its messaging platform, Exchange. WebDAV is what powers the feature-rich Outlook Web Access feature. Microsoft Entourage 2004 for Mac OS X leverages WebDAV for collaboration access. Using WebDAV, Entourage can access the Exchange global address list, provide offline access to Exchange messages, and offer the same general access features as Microsoft Outlook.

Alternatively, the Snerdware Groupcal and AddressX products enable the Apple iCal and address book to interoperate with Microsoft Exchange. The Snerdware products are a viable alternative to Microsoft Entourage , and enable Macintosh users continue to use their Apple messaging software.

Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 is arguably the best option for cross-platform groupware collaboration, because of the dwindling Macintosh client support from Novell, IBM, and Oracle. Be on the lookout for the evolution of WebDAV on all of the messaging platforms, as it may be the best long-term solution to the cross-platform collaboration problem.

--Brian O'Neil

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