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EMC, Microsoft And Yahoo Zimbra Take Collaboration Tools To A New Level

Improved linkages between collaboration tools and other software products has been a common theme in new releases from EMC, Microsoft, Yahoo's Zimbra and others.

collaboration software

Improved linkages between collaboration tools and other software products has been a common theme in new releases from EMC, Microsoft, Yahoo's Zimbra and others. Zimbra Collaboration Suite 5.0, launched in February, improved its connections to the wireless world by adding support for BlackBerry Enterprise Server, J2ME-enabled handsets and Microsoft's Outlook 2007. Microsoft is developing tighter integration between its Groove and SharePoint collaboration products. And last month EMC shipped Documentum eRoom 7.4 integrated with Documentum Information Rights Management (IRM).

"I think the days of a stand-alone collaboration tool are numbered," said Lance Shaw, a senior product marketing manager in EMC's software group. Providing a way for a team of people to come together and work on a project is no longer enough. That's the idea behind linking Groove with SharePoint, said Abbott Lowell, Groove product manager. Small teams of people both inside and outside an organization can use Groove as a workspace, then use SharePoint to push the results of their collaboration out to a wider audience. Sharing is largely limited to documents, but the release of Groove to be included with the next version of Microsoft Office will broaden the types of content Groove and SharePoint can exchange.

Elsewhere, Zimbra's API architecture smooths the process of integrating that collaboration application with other systems, said Matthew Porter, CEO of Contegix LLC, a St. Louis-based managed hosting service provider that sells Zimbra to its clients. One customer, for example, links the hosted Zimbra with a copy of Microsoft's Active Directory running on-premise.

Another integration driver is the need for organizations to exert some measure of control over collaboratively produced content and apply governance, compliance and document retention policies—hence the eRoom integration with IRM.

The Test Center examined EMC's eRoom, Microsoft's Office 2007 Enterprise with Groove and Yahoo Zimbra. The products feature various communication tools, workflow and knowledge management features. Some of the collaboration solutions integrate with third-party or external messaging servers, including realtime tools like instant messaging.

Some vendors, like IBM, were omitted from our review because their products were too fragmented.

Because some of the products we reviewed are not direct market competitors, we did not compare them and did not calculate our scores based on market advantages. We concentrated on the technology of each solution and market offering. Reviewers evaluated application/file sharing, document management, workflows and APIs independently. We also looked into e-mail, calendaring, instant messaging, telephony integration, wiki and social networking.

Next: EMC eRoom EMC eRoom
Yes, EMC, Hopkinton, Mass., is a world market-share leader in enterprise storage—but for the past several years it has been busy building software. In 2003, EMC paid $1.7 billion for workflow innovator Documentum, which had built a collaboration solution called eRoom. EMC still delivers the solution.

While the word "rigid" is not often associated with collaboration environments that aim to liberate users from the confines of messaging servers, it should be. Rigid environments provide a work structure that managers can follow to solve business problems. At first glance, eRoom's project-based architecture seems to follow a rigid format instead of the usual workspace layout. However, its rigid, event-driven layout is highly manageable.

In fact, eRoom's Web-based workspaces bring participants together into highly customizable communities and sites.

Now at version 10.4, eRoom provides granular control over files passed between users inside as well as outside a corporate LAN through its IRM; it also protects Microsoft as well as Adobe files. But here EMC takes a different approach than rival Microsoft. Microsoft's document-sharing IRM technology calls for sending an encryption key with files, so users can't control changes to the files dynamically. ERoom's solution relies on an IRM server to make the changes. Encryption keys reside inside IRM servers, so administrators can change the key anytime, essentially locking end users from modifying the files or even accessing them, even if the files are still on local systems.

As tested, eRoom's Web environment is highly customizable with many preconfigured application templates to give customers a head start. Users can add folders—and features to folders—by simply selecting properties. A workgroup can create objects, like discussion threads and tasks, which are created within an "eRoom." Once created, those discussion threads and task lists can have other objects tied to them, and everything remains connected during the life of a specific project.

Microsoft Office 2007 Enterprise With Groove 2007 Collaboration tools simply don't get better than Microsoft Office Groove 2007. When combined with other Office tools, Groove is far more comprehensive than many server-side collaboration suites. It is even built with its own security features, allowing users to invite participants inside and outside corporate networks into the same project.

Groove uses a simple but effective digital fingerprint feature to verify authenticity of other users. The mechanism can be used inside a corporate network and with external users. Administrators can set up policies in a Groove server to manage user communication. In addition, Groove uses communication policies to verify users. The policies only provide access control management. File-level management is automatically handled by Groove clients. Out of the box, Groove has many restrictions for file types that can be shared.

A limitation that's unfortunate: E-mail integration only extends to sending invitation messages through Outlook. Groove's forms designer is highly customizable; its default form layout divides forms into views and fields. The forms provide various field types such as drop-down lists, rich text, attachments and system fields, including custom fields. Users can also change form views. Groove provides automatic field validation, lookups and custom field size. It supports complex field formats such as contacts and dates; an Access tab provides granular views. Access by managers, participants and guests can be finely controlled.

Nicely, Groove 2007 is quite extensible. At Microsoft's Groove developer portal, developers can download the Groove SDK. The MSDN site also has sample code demonstrating how to extend Groove forms and Web services. The new Silverlight addition to the samples promotes the use of Web views using the Silverlight engine. The JavaScript is based on Silverlight 1.0.

Groove's most useful tools are the Issue Tracker and Discussion threads. Tracker provides a simple but effective tracking mechanism for outstanding tasks. When combined with the Discussion tool, users are able to collaborate effectively without having to rely on strict workflows.

Next: Yahoo Zimbra Yahoo Zimbra
Greater sharing of information today as a means of increasing corporate productivity has meant big things for open-source collaboration software, especially for projects like Zimbra. Yahoo's acquisition of Zimbra has opened new markets for the popular open-source company; however, the two companies have kept their technologies separate.

Under Yahoo, Zimbra now supports Ajax technology and other innovations that have been influenced by the Yahoo developer network. With more than 13,000 community members, Zimbra can afford to release extremely stable and well-liked software. With 11,000,000 commercial e-mail boxes, Zimbra is taking advantage of a slow but steady market shift toward Web hosting and greater need for collaboration among workers online in social networking environments. It is a win-win position for Yahoo as well. Yahoo can offer an on-premise corporate e-mail solution to customers.

At its core, Zimbra's collaboration software doesn't have that much of a different approach than its competitors but offers lots of functionality on its Web client. Zimbra comes with basic collaboration modules such as calendar sharing, task sharing, address books, briefcases, IM and file sharing.

A new technology allows Exchange servers to coexist alongside Zimbra servers on the same networks. (The new Zimbra server can share a global address list with Exchange.) Zimbra's IM is new to the product, but does not operate on the same network as Yahoo. However, Zimbra's IM tool provides archiving and management so that customers can record activities to maintain compliance.

The advantage of Zimbra's open-source business approach is obvious. Having source code available gives the developer community the ability to create new functionality and add value.

Bottom Line
Though the Microsoft Office Groove client software doesn't compete directly with eRoom and Zimbra, the tool outshines these server-based products. However, companies need to have in place shared Office server or Groove server for users to collaborate. That will provide a strong solution.

Five Key Players in Collaboration
Hopkinton, Mass.
(508) 435-1000

KEY PRODUCT:EMC Documentum eRoom.

CHANNEL POINTS:Stand-alone configuration includes a server ($25,000) and client component (a license fee of $200 per client and $75 per server for each user). EMC has Web-based training to save partners from taking their people out of the field. Instructor-led clases and on-site training options are available for advanced certifications..

Armonk, N.Y.
(914) 499-1900

KEY PRODUCT:Lotus Notes and Domino, Lotus Notes and Domino Express, Lotus Quickr, Lotus Quickr Content Integrator, Lotus Sametime (Entry, Standard, Advanced), Lotus Sametime Unyte, Lotus Mashups, WebSphere Portal.

CHANNEL POINTS:Member, Advanced and Premier. This partner-level structure enables any type of business partner (e.g., resellers, independentsoftware vendors, syste intregatorsm etc.) to participate in the IBM PartnerWorld program. All partners in PartnerWorld receive sales, marketing and support benefits and access to ssoftware download and demo sites based on their membership levels. IBM also provides a comprehensive training and certification program for business partners.

COMPANY: Microsoft
Redmond, Wash.
(800) 642-7676

KEY PRODUCT:Microsoft Office Enterprise 2007 with Groove.

CHANNEL POINTS:The Microsoft Partner Program enhances the value of the partner membership through benefits, tools and resources designed to help accelerate sales, gain a competitive edge and win more deals, as well as prosper through a broad offering of support options designed to help partners keep and grow their businesses in the post-sales environment. The Microsoft partner program has an annual awards program that runs in association with the Worldwide Partner Conference. In addition to this international awards program, the subsidiaries also are able to offer rebates, spifs or regional awards programs.

Redwood Shores, Calif.
(800) Oracle 1

KEY PRODUCT:Oracle Collaboration Suite

CHANNEL POINTS:Price is $60 per user plus maintenance and support. Technical/marketing support offering is avaliable thrugh Oracle PartnerNetwork.

COMPANY: Yahoo Zimbra
Sunnyvale, Calif.
(650) 212-7767

KEY PRODUCT:Zimbra Collaboration Suite

CHANNEL POINTS:Price is $25 per user per year (license, support and upgrades).Zimbra offers up to 30% discounts for top partners and provides 24x7 e-mail and phone support. Zimbra provides early beta access, early access to road map, co-funding of trade shows and lead generation for top-tier partners. Support and Partner Portal is available for all partners, as are training and marketing collateral.

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