Netscape Communications is a late entrant into the groupware arena, but it is banking on its Internet roots to help compete with old-timers Microsoft and Lotus Development.
Unlike Microsoft and Lotus, which are grafting POP (Post Office Protocol), NNTP (Network News Transport Protocol) and other Internet standards onto their proprietary Exchange and Notes platforms, Netscape is building Internet standards into its groupware offerings: the Communicator client and groupware additions to SuiteSpot. Both components are due in the first quarter of next year.
Demonstrations of Communicator and its companion collaboration World Wide Web servers for messaging, real-time conferencing, store-and-forward discussions, document management and workflow have been compelling. For example, with a richly featured HTML editor, the Communicator client is a far cry from previous Netscape browsers.
However, while Netscape has announced its intention to contribute its extensions to Internet standards committees, the company's collaboration servers might not work as well with non-Netscape browsers.
For example, Netscape's Communicator Conference client and Collabra conferencing server use NNTP newsgroup protocols, along with some extensions for security and searching implemented in Netscape Communicator. It is unclear whether non-Netscape browsers will be able to access Netscape's NNTP-based discussions.
Lotus, by contrast, is translating its Notes discussion forums into HTML, enabling a wide variety of Web browsers to be used with the groupware software.
In the area of information distribution and security, Notes' maturity is an advantage. Like Lotus, Netscape plans to make use of Web security mechanisms such as SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) as a means of authenticating clients logging in from the Web. However, Notes has much more detailed field-level security for controlling access to specific sections of a document or database.
Lotus also has leveraged Notes' replication technology, extending it to the Internet through new products such as Weblicator. Microsoft is now beta testing replication services for its Internet Information Server, and Netscape is still working on its replication offering.
Both Netscape and Notes will offer basic messaging and scheduling features in upcoming releases of Communicator and Notes 4.5, respectively. Netscape's support looks to be more sophisticated, through its use of IMAP (Internet Mail Access Protocol) and support for disconnected messaging operations.
Lotus, in contrast, is just starting to add support for POP clients.
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