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What is PHP-Groupware?

phpGroupware is a collaborative software web application which features web based messaging, calendar tools, email, and project management for any size project. Please note that this software is no longer supported by developers as of 2014.

About PHP-Groupware

A tool similar in scope to Microsoft's Sharepoint, but maintained by the GNU open source community, PHP-GroupWare is an extensible tool which can be used to organize teams and projects, with the ability to control email, calendars, share documents, track issues, and a variety of other enterprise type workflow needs. There are over 50 applications bundled into the phpGroupWare stack.

However, PLEASE NOTE that this software has been declared decommissioned by its former contributors. Since PHP-GroupWare is decommissioned, it is not advised for use in modern production environments. However, it is worth noting the impact which this tool has had on web applications of similar nature which are now very prolific in the arena of Software as a Service (SaaS).

The project was first registered on SourceForge in June of 2000 - at the time it was an ambitious project by a collection of open source developers with intention to create a full purpose enterprise management tool at zero cost for businesses.

Features of PHP-Groupware

The early development of PHP-GroupWare was focuses on supporting a wide number of features. The Roadmap for the platform started with many different site features, this included:

  • E-Mail - connect with IMAP and POP3 Servers, Usenet Newsgroups, File attachment support, Address book hooks, and support for X-phpGW-Type emails
  • Calendar - private, group and public calendar support, and reoccuring events
  • To-Do Lists - Group to-do items, and providing managers with the ability to maintain employee items.
  • Translation manager - a method to create and update translations from a simple interface.
  • Communication Tools - Trouble Ticketing, Chat functions, Forums, Headline News, Fax Integration
  • File Transfer Support - File Transfer Protocol (FTP) support, and built in Napster Client
  • Organizational - Human resources program, resource booking system (works with Calendar), Inventory Program

The application environment also was very extensible, allowing for developers to use the API and create additional custom add-ons. The capabilities of PHP-GroupWare were well ahead of it's time for an open source platform. Many of the competing projects, both open source and proprietary which have emerged, offer the same functionality, and in some cases have adopted much of the same PHP authoring strategies.

Alternatives to PHP-Groupware

While PHP-Groupware can still be downloaded and installed, and should still work with any PHP 4 servers - the codebase no longer has any developers working on it, and the number of viable competitors and successors means alternatives should be strongly considered. Here are some of the many alternatives available, and how they compare to PHP-GroupWare:

  • Tiki Wiki CMS - Perhaps the closest cousin to PHP-Groupware, "Tiki" has all of the same communication and scheduling capabilities of PHP-Groupware, but it also has much more in terms of functioning as a CMS. This allows users of the platform to publish content, which includes blogs, newsletters, surveys, polls, live chat, built-in spreadsheets, slideshows, drawings, and custom reports. Tiki is also PHP based, using MySQL or MariaDB, with Smarty templates, jQuery and the Zend Framework. The combination of those underlying technologies makes Tiki into a more modern platform - which also has strong support from the open source community.
  • Sharepoint - for bigger commercial projects and teams, picking a proprietary service is sometimes the best route. Sharepoint offers more than just a shared file hosting service - it also has built in team management, calendaring, email lists, instant messing integration, and a variety of in-depth business functions which make it a go-to for any large scale organization. Sharepoint is available as a intranet tool with Sharepoint Server or as a hosted solution with Sharepoint Online. Additionally, there are rumors of a replacement application currently in the works at Microsoft.
  • Confluence & Atlassian Applications - one of the biggest providers of teamwork software outside of Microsoft, Confluence is a powerful way to manage teams with extreme ease of access. It also integrates to other Atlassian software - which includes JIRA for tracking progress and issues and Bitbucket for storing public or private git repositories. Additionally, HipChat offers team video chat and file sharing, while Stash allows for live code collaboration. Combined, this product suite can enable teams to adopt powerful Agile methods and accomplish goals quickly.

There are of course, thousands of available options cropping up to handle any one given aspect of team and project management. Software like Asana or Basecamp allows lists to be created for tracking progress, and allows privacy levels for different tasks or projects. Asana focuses on keeping conversations in the same place, while Basecamp can be useful for managing communications with clients. Trello offers Scrum-like boards with drag-able cards and file sharing.

Then projects like Github, in combination with Gitter, can be useful for having live conversations about open source projects. Or, using Google Drive or Office 365 with Google "Gchat" or Skype - can be a useful way to manage communications and documents ad-hoc. There are new startups emerging every day with some capability which replaces the pieces of older software - but with greater control of the details. Websites like "If This Then That" or "Zappier" can allow for combining multiple services and having them communicate.

Why have applications like PHP-Groupware declined in popularity or use in last decade?

Teams need to evolve to operate in new conditions. The web now versus in the year 2000 has a lot more asynchronous apps which send and receive live data. Moreover, projects are becoming vastly more complex, and newer means to deal with version control means that software can "Fork" into competing versions run by different teams with some collaborators in multiple projects. Software pluralism, interactive content, and the widespread use of social media - means that people work and communicate far differently now. Groupware has to out-compete social networks and specific sece applications, which is challenging.

Where can PHP-Groupware or any of it's alternatives be hosted? Does a custom server or cloud service work better?

It all depends on the business case. For open source software collaboration, finding a free but dynamic hosting solution is the way to go. Github.com leads the way in terms of code-focused groupware online, but for management of other aspects of a project, the best way to find a solution is through trial and error, or by finding out how other projects in your field behave and what tools they use.

A licensed server run by your hardware is the way to go for big commercial interests, where data security needs to be tight - for small projects and low risk companies, a cloud service will do just fine.

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