Monday, March 24, 1997

Groupware This!

Editor's NOTE: This is a moldie oldie that I pulled from a text dump archive. None of the links will work anymore (or 99% won't) - but the names and companies have NOT changed.

Before we get to this installation, I need to clarify statements some people think I made in my last column.

It seems that a number of folks CHOOSE the Windows platform as their "tool of choice" (see our last issue) and by naming our fictitious examples with the name of an apparently popular Intel supplier, I alluded that the Windows platform was less than stellar. This was not my intention - people, the focus was supposed to be "Managers - wake up! Let your folks use the tool that works for them [regardless of platform]" - and not "...Windows sucks." Just so there's no confusion - in the future if I mean to say "Windows sucks", I'll say "Windows sucks."

Onward and upward...

So what's up with "groupware?" I mean, the newest version of Netscape Navigator (behemoth bloatware that it is) boasts newer, better "groupware" communications. Oh, it also requires that you have a Cray supercomputer to run it... but hey, you can "collaborate" with people in your "work group." Huh?

Ten years ago you put your 19 cent stamp on your latest work, dropped it in the mail and waited for the phone to ring. "Groupware" meant that your client would call in two or three days, and go over any changes on the phone. You would then redo the work, and "fire it off" with another cover letter, padded envelope with "DO NOT BEND" written all over it, affix a spiffy a hand-addressed label, and wait for two or three more days.

Not long after that the "groupware" application of choice was next day delivery. I mean, rather than dealing with the mail you could get the same stuff to your customer the very next DAY! Of course it cost a little more (read: finance a small country for a year), but that was the price of that day's "fast-moving" technology.

Then, three or four years ago (when a fax machine cost $1,000 and a fax modem [the absolute bleeding edge of technology] cost about $500), "groupware" meant communicating by fax. You know, "I'll fax it right over..." and you get a curly piece of non-biodegradable toilet paper that was useless to write on - but hey, it worked. You then copied that (on a copy machine, no less!), made YOUR changes, then re-faxed it back. Then the person on the other side would copy YOUR fax, make changes and fax it back... and so on.

In the past year "groupware" means communicating by means of the wonderful world of .hqx, ftp, www, and the most immediate form of communication "email." Ah email. I wonder how I ever got along without it. It's now possible to completely consume my ENTIRE day with "newsgroups", mailing lists, recipes, dirty jokes, chain letters, press releases, announcements, spam (and anti-spam) and more - all at the click of a button.

The term "I'll FedEx it to you" is no longer met with "Great!" or "WOW, really?" but, "Is your email server down?" We've grown to call sending something sent via "regular" mail - "snail mail", and the only time I get a fax is when THEIR email server is down.

Not that this is bad - I've met LOTS more people (at least via email) - and have had great "conversations" with people all over the world. At trade shows, or other "analog" gatherings people introduce themselves and I have no idea who they are - UNTIL I ask their email address: "Oh, you're '' - nice to meet you. By the way check your email when you get back to your hotel the stuff you asked for has been uploaded to our ftp server..."

Do we need "groupware"... probably not. Are we going to get it whether we like it or not? Yes. Will we look back on the days email and laugh at the arcane (and slow) way we used to communicate? Yes. Will we ever get the damn 12:00 to stop blinking on our VCR's? No, never. That's technology...

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