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Groupware explained in easy terms

By Jakob Jelling

Groupware is a term used frequently to describe collaborative software. Groupware is application software that integrates work on a single project by several concurrent users at separated random workstations. In its modern form, it is generally accepted that Lotus Software popularized groupware. Lotus introduced its very popular application Lotus Notes that runs in connections with its Lotus Domino server. But on the other hand, some people also argue that groupware had already been anticipated by then by some very old monolithic systems like NLS.

NLS, which is short for “online System” was a revolutionary computer collaboration system designed by Douglas Engelbart along with the other researchers at the Augmentation Research Center (ARC) at the Stamford Research Institute (SRI). The NLS system was the first to employ to practical use, modern computing concepts such as hypertext links, the mouse (which was co-invented by Engelbart and his colleague Bill English), raster scan video monitors, screen windowing, computer presentation software (like Photoshop), and to be able to organize software according to their respective relevance.

The more general meaning of groupware is social software. Social software is used to talk about systems that are used outside the workplace. Systems that come under this explanation of groupware include, for example, online dating services and social networks. Studies that are conducted in relation to computer-supported collaboration or groupware also include the study of the software and the social phenomenon associated with them. An extension of the meaning of groupware can be used to identify the case of collaborative media.

Groupware, for analysis, can be divided into three categories on the basis of the level of collaboration in them. These three categories include communication tools, conferencing tools, and collaborative management (co-ordination) tools. Communication tools can be used to facilitate the sharing of data between users by sending data, files, messages or documents between the users. The examples of such tools include electronic mail, facsimile, voice mail, electronic publishing (or web publishing) etc. Conferencing tools also facilitate the sharing of information but do it in a much more interactive way.

The examples of such type of groupware include data conferencing, voice conferencing, video conferencing, Internet forums, chat rooms and electronic meeting systems etc. Collaborative tools are more complex methods of facilitating and managing information through groupware. These forms of groupware include electronic calendars (or time management software), project management systems, workflow systems, knowledge management systems, extranet systems, and social software systems.

The biggest hurdle in the implementation of groupware systems is to convince people and to get them to start using it. To use the software it is necessary that people feel comfortable using it. For this people have to be trained so that they feel comfort while they use the groupware systems. In many cases, collaboration is also at odds with the competitive nature of the companies, which makes many companies vary of implementing such procedures.