As interest in the Internet sparked new enthusiasm about collaborative computing, groupware reached outside big business and started attracting a broader cross-section of the market.
Web packages are also starting to attract users outside of the realm of closed corporate communication networks. Late this year, tools tailored to small and midsize businesses debuted as "rental apps" that are expected to become widely available next year through Internet services providers and telephone carriers.
This development was preceded by a series of positioning statements as each of the main players tried to clarify its groupware strategy.
Microsoft, Novell, and Lotus made their groupware accessible through standard browsers and announced support for the likes of Sun Microsystems' Java programming language, Microsoft's ActiveX, and an alphabet soup of Net protocols.
Microsoft was so anxious to have a strong Internet story to tell that it canceled the December 1995 beta test for its Exchange Server to give its developers another six weeks to enhance the product's Internet offerings.
Netscape, meanwhile, added groupware-like features to its Navigator browser. And a motley crew of Web software start-ups, including Allaire, Radnet, and OpenText debuted Web-based groupware designed for head-to-head competition with products such as Lotus Notes.
Lotus, tired of watching the slew of companies invade its market, unveiled its own plans to elbow into emerging Internet marketplaces. The company this fall said it will sell key pieces of Notes as standalone Net accessories. The company has also renamed Notes after its new Domino Web server software, and unveiled a suite of e-commerce applications to run on top of Domino. Microsoft and Netscape are not far behind. They are working to integrate groupware with business and commerce apps.
While the companies scrambled this year in earnest to position themselves as groupware players, competition won't begin in earnest until the middle of next year. That's when the big names are expected to actually deliver products that will offer native Internet protocol support and roughly the same feature sets. Analysts say a shakeout is inevitable with all but a few start-ups falling to the dominant players.
Predictions for 1997
"Intranets are going to continue to drive the deployment of groupware throughout 1997. The two challenges facing users next year will be overcoming the human barriers to sharing knowledge, and in conjunction with sharing knowledge, how to search and shift through the vast amounts of information online...How we weed out bad data--that could be the Achilles heel of this whole information-sharing issue. As we grow the corporate knowledge base, you have to be very careful that the information is accurate because it becomes part of the corporate brain."
--Ian Campbell, International Data Corporation
"In 1996, the landscape was network standards. In 1997, the discussion will move from network standards to content standards. Next year will be an explosive year for email. Corporations will pave their systems with groupware suites which bring with them more collaborative tools...The big-three names--Lotus, Microsoft, and Netscape--are all aware of the competitive landscape. None of them will be knocked out of the box. There is not enough room for more than three significant players in this industry. While they have a good product, Novell isn't going to be able to keep pace."
--Eric Brown, Forrester Research
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