September 27, 2005

Citadel: open source groupware's best kept secret?

Art Cancro writes "Citadel: open source groupware's best kept secret?

Years ago, users expected their electronic mail systems to send and
receive messages, and not much else. Today's users, however, are more
sophisticated. They expect Personal Information Manager (PIM) functions
such as calendars and address books, a choice of access methods, and a
variety of groupware functions. Yet the goal of providing an easily
deployable open source groupware platform has, until recently, been somewhat
elusive. Most of the popular choices have been built as traditional web
applications, requiring a system administrator to install and configure a
mail server, a web server, and a database server before being able to
begin the groupware installation. Moreover, the resulting functionality has
followed a cookie-cutter style modeled after proprietary systems that some
consider outdated. This is why you might be surprised to learn about the
existence of a project that not only solves the complexity problem, but takes
a fresh new approach to groupware.

A familiar program in a new role

Citadel is an open source groupware server
that has its roots in online communities. You may remember the Citadel
BBS's of the 1980's and 1990's; today's groupware platform is of the very
same pedigree. But to write off Citadel as an overgrown BBS package does not
do justice to the powerful abilities of this impressive
platform. While most groupware systems center around the automation of
business processes, Citadel offers a platform that you can build a community
around. It centers around the idea of connecting people together in real
time using a set of tools that focuses on people, not processes.

System administrators will find Citadel refreshingly easy to install.
There is no need to "bring your own" mail server, web server, or database
server. Citadel has all of its data stores and protocols built in. It
uses the powerful Berkeley DB database for all
of its storage needs. All of the popular electronic mail protocols are
built in, including ESMTP, POP3, and IMAP, as well as GroupDAV for
connecting popular open source PIM clients such as Kontact and Evolution.
There is no need for the tedious mucking about with cryptic Sendmail
configuration files or obscure Cyrus commands; everything is configurable
through an easy to use browser-based interface.

For those who are nervous about the prospect of compiling software from
source, Citadel provides an "Easy Install" script that handles this task
for you. Entering one command at a shell prompt downloads an install
script from the Citadel project's download server, and performs the entire
installation automatically.

A fresh new approach

From the moment you log in, you will notice that there's something
different about this platform. This isn't the stuffy forms-and-folders
groupware you've grown to hate. Citadel sites are organized into
imaginary physical spaces called "rooms." A room can be an email folder,
or it can be a message board, or a calendar, an address book, a mailing
list, an RSS sink, a chat room, or potentially a combination of two or
more of the above.

Because of its roots in the world of online communities, Citadel has
evolved as a user-focused platform. Users love Citadel because it's
software that helps them work, play, stay in touch... without calling
attention to itself. It gets out of the way and focuses on the concept
that "the message is the medium" -- all else is noise and is kept to the
absolute minimum.

But perhaps one of Citadel's most unique features is its powerful
networking functionality. Two or more Citadel nodes can be connected into
a loosely federated network, not only delivering mail between them but
performing network-wide replication of "shared rooms" as well. Imagine a
bulletin board, or a calendar, or even an address book shared across every
Citadel server in your organization. For those familiar with the way Lotus
Notes can replicate its databases, this is the same thing (except it's easy).
Citadel's use of this unified, replicatable data store is what makes it so
powerful and so simple at the same time. For example, if you want to spread
your users out across multiple servers but still have all of their email
addresses in a single domain, you simply share the Global Address Book room.

Try it!

Browse the screenshots if you'd like; a picture is worth a thousand words,
but a live demonstration is worth a thousand pictures. So treat yourself to
a demonstration by logging on to one or more of the Citadel sites that are
available on the public Internet. Connect with your favorite client software,
be old-school and telnet to the text based interface, or log on with your
web browser and enjoy the rich Ajax-style online experience. You might find
that the best open source groupware platform has been available all this time
and you just never knew it was there."

Click Here!