In light of the recent must-have-groupware-in-place craze, I’ve decided to check out what sorts of groupware offerings are available in the Linux community. Fortunately, I came across one particular groupware application that, although not as powerful as some, has a lot of features that just might fit your SOHO needs to a tee!

Created by Cybozu, the Office 3 groupware application has so many bells and whistles that you’d swear you were using Microsoft Windows. (Heck, it even has a Windows version!) Included in the list of features, you’ll find:

  • Scheduler—To schedule meetings and such
  • WebMail—A Web-based e-mail client
  • Whereabouts—Which announces where you are
  • To Do List—A full-featured to-do list
  • Bulletin Board—A central location to post articles
  • Project—An extensive project coordinator
  • Facilities Scheduler—To schedule meeting rooms and such
  • Forum—A discussion list
  • Cabinet—An online document management system

I will explain these features in detail, but suffice it to say that Office 3 is as feature rich as its competition.

Installing Cybozu’s Office 3 is actually quite simple—once you know certain locations. This is where most people will have difficulty. The first time I installed the application, I couldn’t get it to run. The second time I installed the application, none of the icons appeared. The third time I installed the application, all was right.

The installation of Office 3 is done completely from the command line. It’s not, however, a standard make ; make install type of installation. Instead, once you untar the package (which can be downloaded from the Cybozu site), you will see the following files:

  • cb3INSTALL.txt
  • cb3setup

and the following directory:

  • cb3tmp
  • Of the three files (above), the cb3setup is the binary installation file. Unlike many of the newer Linux applications, this one doesn’t include the typical GUI installation wizard. This time around, you will have to go through a minimalist text-based installer that’s very simple but requires two very specific directory paths.

    Here’s my advice for a painless Office 3 installation: From the directory you downloaded the gzipped file into, run the following as root:
    mkdir /CYBOZU”
    mv cbof30usl.tar.gz /CYBOZU
    cd /CYBOZU
    tar xvzf cbof30usl.tar.gz

    Okay, at this point, you need to have the specific directory information handy. The Office 3 installer is going to copy specific files into specific directories. If you do an ls of the cb3tmp directory, you will see seven subdirectories filled with various files and such for the application. As soon as you run the install binary (and after pressing [Enter] until you’re past the license agreement), you will have to specify the installation directory. The recommended directory (/usr/local/www/cgi-bin/) does not exist, and even as root, will not be created. Depending on how recent your distribution is, you will need to instead use the following as your install directory:

    • Red Hat >= 7.0 – /var/www/cgi-bin/cb3
    • Red Hat < 7.0 – /home/httpd/cgi-bin/cb3

    The install script will then ask you if you are sure the directory is configured as a document root directory. The answer is no. What you want to specify as document root is the www/html directory. In some cases, this will be /var/www/html, and in some cases, it will be /home/http/html.

    Declare this as your document root, press [Enter], and it will begin to install. Once the installation is complete, you’ll need to read through the instructions on starting the application. However, there is one thing that has been left out of the instructions. Before you point your browser to the Office 3 URL, you must make sure that httpd is running. If you’re not sure, you can (as root) run the command:
    /etc/rc.d/init.d/httpd status

    If it returns that httpd is not running, run this command:
    /etc/rc.d/init.d/httpd start

    and you’ll be good to go.

    Poking around Office 3
    To fire up the Office 3 application, you will need to open up a browser on your LAN and point it to:

    You will be greeted with a screen that resembles the one shown in Figure A.
    Some browsers will not allow you to access all features of Office 3. I discovered that my favorite browser, Opera, will not do file uploading within the Cabinet or the Bulletin Board.

    Figure A
    The initial Office 3 screen allows users to log in.

    Once you log in to the application, you will be greeted by a wondrous wealth of options, applications, bells, and whistles. The first thing to grab your attention will most likely be the Scheduler (shown in Figure B). This application is the equivalent of Microsoft Outlook’s Calendar application. Before I get into the actual usage of this application, however, I’ll first discuss how to administer users.

    Figure B
    Once you’ve logged in, you’ll see the Scheduler.

    User administration
    The first thing you will want to do (and you’d have to dig into the Office 3 support page to find this) is to (as root) delete the admin file from *cgi-bin/cb3/data/ (where * is the complete path to the installation directory). With that file deleted, you can now set a new administrator password by clicking on the System Settings icon. Once the new page appears, scroll down to the Administration & Maintenance section (shown in Figure C below).

    Figure C
    The Administration & Maintenance section allows you to change (or add) an administrative password.

    From here, click Authorized Password Registration, which will open a new page where you can enter your password. After you enter and verify your password, click OK and you’re ready to begin administering your Office 3 groupware.

    Adding groups
    Even before you add users, you will want to add groups. Think of groups as departments. Here in my TechProGuild test of Office 3, I have created three groups: TPG, Track Editors, and TPG Edit. With these groups added, I can now assign users to each group and all users of a group will be included in group meeting requests, and so on.

    Adding a group in Office 3 is nearly identical to adding a user, so I’ll skip to adding a user and cover both grounds.

    Adding users
    There is really no trick to adding users. The only possible oddity you may encounter is that if you’ve not set an administrative password, any user can add and delete users/groups as well as make administrative changes. So set that password!

    Okay, now that you’ve set your password, click the System Settings icon, and the Cybozu Office Common Settings Menu will appear. From there, you want to select User Settings. This new window (Figure D) will allow you to pull off a number of tricks (add, delete, edit, import, and export).

    Figure D
    The User Settings page will allow you to add, delete, edit, etc.

    To add a user, click the Add button. A new page will open (Figure E), and then fill in the user’s requisite information.

    Figure E
    The Adding User screen allows you to manipulate your user base.

    Before you click Add, though, scroll down the page a bit. At the bottom, you’ll see another section that will allow you to add this user to various groups (Figure F). This is key in making Office 3 seamlessly support various departments. Of course, you will not be able to effectively use this section if you’ve not added any groups.

    Figure F
    Adding a user to select groups is as simple as a couple of clicks of the mouse.

    The Cabinet
    Probably one of the most useful modules to the Office 3 groupware suite, the Cabinet acts as the online documentation center. From here, you upload and download files to the server so that members of your groups can work with them.

    For most companies, this will be one of the most-used features in Office 3. With the ability to share, manipulate, edit, load, and upload files, the groupware aspect of this application really comes to the forefront. The full functionality of the cabinet makes it a winner, while the ease of use really shines through.

    I don’t typically like browser-based, single-point-of-failure type applications. This solution, however, merited a certain nod of respect (if only for its ability to share files). If you have dealt with cross-platform file sharing (as with nfs or smb), you understand that it can quickly become a nightmare. With the help of Cybozu’s Office 3, file sharing on a heterogeneous network is amazingly simple!

    As you can see from Figure G, the Cabinet is set up as simple files and folders. To add new folders or directories to the Office 3 server, you simply click the Add links.

    Figure G
    Adding a new document or folder to the Cabinet is as simple as a click of the mouse.

    Although Cybozu Office 3 offers many more features than covered in this article, you should begin to get the full scope of what it’s capable of. Having gone the rounds with a complex and costly content management system, I rejoiced in seeing a cheaper alternative that was easier to install and maintain.

    Of course, Office 3 is not free. Cybozu charges anywhere from $298 for a single application to $8,800 for an unlimited user license of the full-blown suite. Take a look at their pricing page to find out the whole scoop.

    I found myself very pleased with Office 3’s performance. Once I installed the server, I left it running for well over a month without a single problem. It’s stable, it’s feature rich, and best of all, it’s Linux. (Okay, okay…so they also sell a Windows version!) The only drawback I discovered was that the suite required certain browsers to gain full functionality. To that, I would beg someone to work with the Opera browser and get the full functionality in place!
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