In his book Groupware — Computer Support for Business Teams, Robert Johansen defines groupware as “specialized computer aids that are designed for the use of collaborative work groups.” This definition is better than the “shared data” definition because it helps eliminate multiuser databases from the groupware category. Yet electronic mail fits this definition, as well as some other software sharing tools that experts are still debating.
A more useful definition also appears to be one of the oldest. Peter and Trudy Johnson-Lenz are credited by many as coining the term groupware in 1978. They defined it as “intentional group processes plus software to support them.”
Groupware enhances collaboration by allowing by the exchange of ideas electronically. All the messages on a topic can be saved in a group, stamped with the data, time, and author. Any group member can review the ideas of others at any time and add to them, or individuals can post a documents for others to comment upon or edit. Members can posts requests for help, allowing others to responds. finally, if a group so chooses, members can store their-work notes on the groupware so that all others in the group can see what programs is being made, what problems occur, and what activities are planned.
Groupware utilizes primarily a form of database technology. While there are quite a few differences, groupware has many commonalities with the standard database. Groupware is not just a normal database, rather it is a developing technology to form an application to perform a specific task or set of tasks. Database technology is the main technology that makes groupware able to function as it does, as groupware is more of an extension of database capabilities.
Groupware must be able to support interactions between large numbers of people for it to live up to its definition, and it is fairly typical to find it utilizing a client/server system of interaction. Databases are well suited to the task of powering the back end of groupware as they are specifically designed for just this type of interaction process. Databases are also well suited for use in groupware as they offer a persistent storage which always necessary in any type of collaboration environment. Therefore most groupware available will utilize a database as a way to provide this client/server interaction and persistent storage.
The typical interaction process flows exactly as it would in a standard database. Requests for data manipulation are sent by the client to the server. The server acknowledges the request, performs the action, and stores the result. Once the action is completed, it sends confirmation back to the client. In this way, groupware at its most basic acts exactly as a normal database would be expected to act. However, what makes groupware an interesting concept is how it is different from a normal database.
While groupware is not a new technology, it is a new way of combining established technology in order to achieve a new tool to promote productivity amongst a group of people. Groupware not only changes the way in which we think about databases, but also the way in which databases can be utilized to promote group functionality. By pairing databases with standard productivity tools, an entirely different concept emerges. Groupware, and in particular real time collaborative groupware, is the future of productivity.