Marcel's Linux Walkabout: Groupware Revisited
Welcome back, everyone, to Marcel's Linux Walkabout, a fearless exploration of Linux applications and the open source world. Last time around, I took you through an exploration of an up and coming groupware suite for your business, phpGroupWare.
If you went ahead and set up some user accounts, you may have noticed the sheer number of applications that are available to your users. The most important of these includes email, the calendar, contact manager, and todo lists. But what about all those other interesting applications? The list contains things like chat, stocks, comics, and so on.
Some of these applications aren't available "out of the box" for various reasons. They may not qualify as core business applications (do you need the daily comics?) or they may be incomplete or still early in the development cycle. These incomplete or transitional applications may seem frightening at first, but consider this. One of the greatest things about these open source projects is their very transparency. You can actually see where a project is headed and you are also welcome to participate. Rather than looking at all this as incomplete, I tend to see it as a promise of what is to come, a promise in whose fulfillment you can participate.
Before we move on to other things, consider joining the mailing list and offering your suggestions. The phpGroupWare mailing lists are free and you can scan the archives for past messages. If you would rather work with the bleeding edge of phpGroupWare, I recommend that you pay a visit to the CVS (Concurrent Versions System) repository. To quote from the man page: "... CVS is a version control system, which allows you to keep old versions of files (usually source code), keep a log of who, when, and why changes occurred, etc."
In the development cycle of a major project such as this one, CVS is where the real action is taking place. CVS can be an extremely dynamic environment with programmers making changes daily, or even hourly. Working with CVS isn't as complex as it sounds if all you want to do is download the software and go. Here's what you do.
Start by creating a directory where the software will live (phpwg, for instance). Then checkout the CVS version of the package:
mkdir /usr/local/apache/htdocs/phpgw cd /usr/local/apache/htdocs/phpgw cvs -z3 -d:pserver:firstname.lastname@example.org:/cvsroot/phpgroupware co .
Note that period at the end of the last line above. One of the really neat things you can do with CVS is checkout (or update) a single module in a package (such as "forum", for example). The period is equivalent to saying "get me the works."
If you keep your package up to date using CVS, I have to emphasize the advantages of joining the mailing list. Remember that this is still beta software and by using CVS to keep up, you are working with transitional, possibly unstable code. At various stages in the development cycle, you may be instructed to use a different development branch.
The stable release and its core applications are quite mature and that may be sufficient, but if you are excited about a particular feature that is still in development, the risks of working with CVS code may be worth it.
Note: For a picture of where things are at with the stable code, check out this table on the phpGroupWare site at www.phpgroupware.org/progress.php.
The Joys of Using IMAP
I think it is safe to say that the most important application in the groupware suite is electronic mail. Because phpGroupWare uses IMAP for email, I now have the perfect opportunity to tell you that IMAP is wonderful (and use that as a segue into another groupware suite I'd like you to consider).
There are a number of advantages to running IMAP. The fact that you can select a wide variety of email clients that can access your remote mailboxes is a plus. Using IMAP, it is possible to switch from one IMAP based client to another without having a negative impact on the mail folders. You can access your remote mail folders as though they were locally installed on your client system. That means you can switch from phpGroupWare to Twiggi, (or any other IMAP client) and still have access to your email. Even better, you can switch from one operating system to another or one location to another and your mail folders remain as they were. Taking a holiday to the south of Italy? Just walk into any Internet cafe and check on your email. Your mail is wherever you are.
That, my friends, is freedom. Here's another plus for the system administrators out there. Why have mail downloaded to individual client PCs when you don't have to? Having your mail reside on the server means you don't have to trust your users to back up their PCs at least when it comes to mail.