DIY IT: Groupware on a shoestring budget

When cost is an issue, IT shops can always turn to eGroupware. In this blog, Jack Wallen runs through an eGroupware installation.

Exchange. That juggernaut of a groupware server that most either love or hate. Those who love it, swear by it. Those who hate it wouldn't touch it if it were the last groupware suite on earth. Whether you love or hate it, there is one stumbling block for smaller companies, not-for-profits, and charities out there: Cost. Exchange is not a cheap server to deploy. Not only is the operating system costly, you also have to deal with the cost of hardware and maintenance. Those factors alone will keep the small shops out of the picture when it comes to Exchange.

But what are the options? You could opt for Google Apps and be done with it. But if you want a bit more control of your groupware, or you have a need to prevent users from going to Google, there are other possibilities you should consider: Open source groupware suites. Most of these suites offer very similar functionality as does Exchange and do so without the hardware requirements or the cost. I want to illustrate one particular open source groupware suite: eGroupware.

The eGroupware solution has a few different options:

  • Community version: This is the free version of the suite.
  • Hosted version: This is a hosted version hosted by Sylite.
  • Installation packages: These are paid versions which includes more features than the open source version (check for feature comparison here.)

The open source version of eGroupware has always worked well for me. This version of the suite includes:

  • Admin panel for single point of entry for all admin tasks.
  • Calendar.
  • Email.
  • Contacts.
  • Project management.
  • Resource management.
  • Time sheet.
  • Tracking system.
  • File manager.
  • Website builder.
  • Built in wiki.
  • Bookmarks.
  • News administrator.
  • Polls.
  • Knowledge base.
  • Samba administration.

Not many groupware suites can touch that feature set, especially at the community version price of free.

Now, I have to say when I first started using eGroupware the installation was not for the faint of heart. The dependencies alone would send many administrators packing. That has since changed. In fact, on a Ubuntu 10.10 desktop machine, I had eGroupware community edition up and running in about ten minutes. You can also install eGroupware on Linux, Mac, and Windows. But since we are going for the cheapest possible solution, we'll install on Linux. Of course this will assume you either already have an IMAP server set up on the destination machine or you have access to a working IMAP server you can use for the configuration of email. Here's how I did the installation in under 10 minutes:

Step 1: Add the repositories to apt.

This is simple. Open up the /etc/apt/sources.list file and add the following:

deb ./

Where you see xUbuntu_10.10 you will replace that with the release you are working with.

Save that file.

Step 2: Download and install the GPG key file.

Open up the url:

Where xUbuntu_10.10 is your release. Now download and save the Release.key file into your ~/Downloads directory.

Step 3: Install the GPG key.

Open up a terminal window and issue the command:

sudo apt-key add ~/Downloads/Release.key

Step 4: Update apt and install.

Update apt with the command:

sudo apt-get update

Now you can install egroupware with the command:

sudo apt-get install egroupware

During the installation you will be prompted to configure a user, an admin account, and the MySQL admin user credentials. Once that is complete your eGroupware installation will be ready to use.

With eGroupware installed you are ready to log in and start configuring. Log in with the administrator credentials you set up during installation. One of the first pieces you will want to configure is the email server. The settings are all fairly straightforward (standard IMAP settings - see Figure A).

Figure A

This is how you configure the default email setup. Once this is done, each user will still have to configure their email account information (username, password, etc).

To get into the email configuration you will want to log on as the administrator, click on the Admin button, scroll down until you see the emailadmin link, click to open the email configuration, open the default profile, and create your default email server profile. You can have multiple profiles in case users need to use different email addresses (for whatever reason).

After email is set up, the rest is just a matter of opening up the admin panel (see Figure B) and configuring the tools as needed.

Figure B

This slideaway panel is there so you don't have to scroll all the way up and the page to find the various configuration tools.

Beyond that, the eGroupware configuration will depend upon the needs placed upon the system. But you do have a ton of options at your fingertips.

The choice is yours

There are plenty of other options available to you for groupware tools. The eGroupware suite was used as an example to show you there is plenty available for those on a very tight budget. Have you found a DIY solution to use in place of an Exchange server? If so, what was your solution? How did it work for you? Did it come in well under budget? Share with your fellow TechRepublic readers.