I pride myself in having installed and used
more groupware suites than the average IT person. I have done this — partially — in
search of the perfect open source groupware solution that offers the most
flexibility, the most reliability, and the most scalability. So far, my search
has brought me to some exciting possibilities, but none of the previous finds
stand up to my most recent groupware discovery: eGroupWare.

What’s eGroupWare?

I’ve seen eGroupWare listed as an installed product on my Kubuntu-loaded iBook, but never took the time to figure out
how to get the application working. It was pre-installed, but there wasn’t a
directory for my browser to locate.

I knew that my experience with having eGroupWare
pre-installed or attempting to install via yum
or rpm had always ran afoul, for
whatever reason. So this time, I decided to go the true Linux way and install
from source. The installation wasn’t easy — in fact it was quite lengthy and
trying — but the end result was most definitely worth the hassle. Contained
within an amazingly user-friendly interface, eGroupWare offers nearly
everything you will need for a groupware suite:

  • Calendar
  • E-mail
  • Contacts
  • Documents
  • Project
    Management
  • Timesheet
  • File
    Manager
  • Wiki
  • News
  • Polls

So, how does it work?

Installation

Installing eGroupWare is not for the timid. It requires php-pear, which can be a nightmare. You
will also need php
version 4.3 or greater, but the system recommends version 5. Fedora 7 meets
this requirement. You will also have to have a database installed for the
system. I use MySQL and phpMyAdmin to handle this.
And by using phpMyAdmin, I have created a database called egroupware for the system to use.
So, understanding the environment I am installing upon, you need to start by
grabbing the eGroupWare
tar file.

As root, move the tar
file to Apache’s document root. Once the file is there, unpack it. You should
now have a new directory called
eGroupWare-XXX
(where XXX is the
release number). Change the directory name with the command mv
eGroupWare-XXX egroupware
(where XXX is the release number) to rename the
directory egroupware.
I find this name is much easier for users to remember.

Open up a browser and point it to: http://yourdomain/egroupware/setup. You should now see a Welcome
page for the installation. Select the installation tests. When this is running,
you will see a number of issues eGroupWare may (or may not) discover. This will
inform you what you have to install. Upon my first installation I discovered I
had to install the following PEAR modules:

  • PEAR::Auth_SASL
  • PEAR::Net_IMAP
  • PEAR::Net_Sieve
  • PEAR::HTTP_WebDAV_Server
  • PEAR::Log

Each of these modules are installed
using the pear installation commands.
If you don’t find the pear commands
on your machine, you will have to install php-pear. You can do this on a yum-based
machine by issuing the command (as root) yum
install
php-pear. Once installed, you can install
the necessary modules:

pear install Net_IMAP

Unfortunately, some packages — like HTTP_WebDAV_Server — cannot be
found by pear. One particular
package, egw-pear, is no longer installed by default
with pear or eGroupWare. This package is necessary if you want to install the
default e-mail application, FeLaMiMail, into eGroupWare. This
package is missing from the default installation due to discrepancies in the
license. Unfortunately, you cannot install the package until eGroupWare is installed;
no e-mail until the system is up.

Once you have all your pears
in a row, you can continue on with the installation. You can now return to the
setup and continue on. As you can see in Figure A, as you complete an
installation step, you will get a check by that installation step.

Figure A

Once you’re all “green”,
you’re good to go.

The next step in the installation process is to configure
your system. Press the Configuration button (or link, depending on the release
you are installing) and begin filling out your site-specific information.

Note: You will
notice that one of the paths you must configure is the path for user/group
information. By default, the installer wants to place these paths in /var/lib/egroupware.
First, that full path does not exist and can not be created by the installer.
Second, that’s not a good location for user/group files. To that end, here’s
what I recommend. Open up a terminal application (i.e., xterm, aterm, eterm) and, as root, enter the commands:

mkdir /usr/local/egroupware

mkdir /usr/local/egroupware/default

mkdir /usr/local/egroupware/default/backup

mkdir /usr/local/egroupware/default/files

Back to the installer: Enter /usr/local/egroupware/default/files
for the location of user/group files and enter /usr/local/egroupware/default/backup
for the location of the backup. The rest of the configurations will be specific
to your installation. Finish them up and press Save.

Now let’s create the admin account. Once you have that
completed, you can finish the rest of the administration from the setup page.

Once you have the basic setup complete, you need to go back
and finish the install so that you can include e-mail with your system. As I
mentioned earlier, the egw-pear package must be installed before
you can install the e-mail application. To do this, you need to download the eGroupWare-egw-pear package.

Move that tar file
into /var/www/html/egroupware
and unpack it. Now go back into the setup screen and press the Manage
Application button. From there you should see the egw-pear package listed in Figure B. In your instance, there
will be a select box in the install column. Check that and then press the Save
button at the bottom of the page. This will install egw-pear.

Figure B

This same screen will
allow you to update any package that has an update available.

One you’ve installed that package, go back and find the
listing for the FeLaMiMail package. Select the Install checkbox and press the
Save button to install the e-mail package. You can go through the entire list
to ensure that every package you want on the system is installed.

Now that your system is up and running, you can log in as
the administrator and take care of all the necessary tasks. Each application
has its own configuration options available; most are fairly straightforward.
The ones that are not, we’ll address now.

Admin page

The first page you should visit, the Admin page is the first
icon on the left side at the top of the main page. Select it to reveal the
bounty. Through this page, you can configure every application eGroupWare has
to offer. The first thing you should do, however, is take care of the Admin
section. Here, you can control the following:

  • Site
    configuration (site configuration, appearance, security)
  • User
    accounts (add, delete, edit users)
  • User
    groups (add, delete, edit groups)
  • Applications
    (install applications)
  • Global
    Categories (add categories that can be used by all applications)
  • Chain
    main screen message (MOTD)
  • View
    sessions (who’s logged in)
  • View
    access log (view the log of the eGroupWare site access)
  • View
    error log (view any errors reported by any part of the eGroupWare suite)
  • Asynchronous
    timed services (crontab
    — you need to install this from this page)
  • DB
    backup and restore (back up your database)
  • PHP
    information (useful information about your PHP installation)

Home page

One of the first things you will notice is that the home
page of eGroupWare is the calendar. This makes perfect sense for most
installations. You will also notice a “Home” icon near the top of the
screen (see Figure C). This icon
takes you to a page that, by default, is blank. The purpose of the home page is
really for admins to leave the equivalent of a MOTD
(message of the day) for the users. There is, however, no way to set the home
page as the default page for eGroupWare. That’s fine, because every application
has its own icon at the top of the page.  

Figure C

eGroupWare
has one of the most user-friendly layouts of all the groupware applications.

E-mail

Much of the application configuration is fairly
straightforward, but the e-mail application is a bit different. Once you have
it installed, you will notice that when you press the e-mail icon you will get
an error saying it can not connect to the IMAP server, even if it is configured.
The reason for that is because no user accounts have been set up.

The user account on the eGroupWare system must be able to
connect to their user account on the IMAP server. Select the Site Configuration
link under emailadmin
(on the Admin page). Here you will see a list of Profiles (see Figure D).
Upon installation, there should only be one profile listed. The first thing you
need to do is select the default profile link under Description.

Figure D

The configurations
you see are from the installation of the system.

Once the new window opens, check the Users Can Define Their Own
E-mail Accounts checkbox, as seen in Figure E.

Figure E

You can configure
both SMTP and IMAP from this same window.

Press Save, select the E-mail icon
near the top, and press on the Manage Emailaccounts
link in the left navigation. Here you will configure the identity of your e-mail
account. Each user will have to do this, so you will have to supply
instructions for them. Figure F shows all of the configurations
necessary to set up the eGroupWare e-mail.

Figure F

Make sure the User
Custom Settings box is checked at the top.

Once you have completed the configuration, press Save and you’re done. You can now use the eGroupWare e-mail
system.

With the exception of the Wiki and
the SiteMgr, the tools within eGroupWare are
incredibly easy to use. The Wiki and the SiteMgr, are
complex enough to warrant their own articles.

Final thoughts

As I said before, I have scoured what seems like the whole
of the Internet looking for the perfect open source groupware application.
After going through what seems like hundreds of suites I believe I have found
the best of them all. Yes, eGroupWare is that good. Not only is it robust,
reliable, and scalable, but the applications are easy to use and flexible.

So if you’ve been searching for that perfect solution for
your company’s groupware needs, this is your lucky day: egroupWare
should be your group ware. It tops the list in features, use, aesthetics, and
reliability.