Although groupware has been around since 1989 with the advent of Lotus Notes -- and one might say even years before -- it took the Internet to focus attention on the subject, just like it has on everything else. It's hard to remember that AOL couldn't communicate with CompuServe just a few years ago. Now everybody in the world with electronic connections can e-mail each other. It will eventually become routine to share applications, talk to each other and see each other over the Net.

The beauty of the Net is its driving force for creating a global standard. It's become the glue to bind every legacy interface and protocol together, to allow everything to talk to everything, and it's great for groupware, because groupware is communicating and sharing.

SO WHAT IS GROUPWARE?

Groupware is hard to pin down perfectly, but in general, it is software that supports workgroups and people working together -- people sharing information and the like. One has to be a bit careful here, because a central database system does that too, and that's been around for decades. If you ponder the subject long enough, you could make a case that every application designed for multiple users is groupware. Therefore, it's best not to ponder the universe, but to look at the things that groupware can do. Hence what follows are most of the primary groupware functions.

ELECTRONIC MAIL AND MESSAGING

The messaging system is at the heart of an integrated groupware product. E-mail is used to notify members of the team, obtain responses and send alerts. As would be expected, most groupware products today allow URLs to be included within e-mail messages that provide live links to an intranet or Internet site. Clicking on them launches the browser automatically, or, if the browser is an integral part of the groupware client, the browser function.

Lotus Notes, which uses a document database as its foundation architecture, can include database links in its e-mail. Instead of sending copies of a document to each group member, only the link is sent and members can access the Notes database directly.

E-mail messages about a specific subject can be collected in a user's computer and linked together in chronological order, providing an ongoing discourse about a certain topic. These "threaded discussions" turn e-mail into a running history of comments and responses. This has been popular with Internet newsgroups at least since Wayne Davison created the trn newsreader back in the mid-1980s. Threaded discussions are now widely implemented on groupware products.

Every groupware product worth its salt is or will be supporting the Internet messaging standards, including SMTP, MIME, POP3, IMAP4 and LDAP. SMTP (Simple Mail Transport Protocol) is the Internet's messaging format. SMTP moves your mail from server to server. MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) allows 7-bit SMTP servers to handle 8-bit files by encoding binary attachments to your e-mail as ASCII text and decoding them at the other end.

POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) and IMAP4 (Internet Messaging Access Protocol) are standard protocols for mail servers, which deliver the mail to you when you log on. Although POP is universally used, IMAP will be increasingly supported as it provides more flexibility than POP. For example, IMAP lets you preview your messages instead of being forced to download a 24MB file you didn't want.

LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) is the upcoming global directory standard, a combination yellow and white pages that will provide a common way to look up anybody's address on the Internet.

DOCUMENT SHARING AND REPLICATION

Shared folders (directories) have been permitted on the earliest networks with varying degrees of access control. The better the document management system, the more sophisticated the levels of access, ensuring authorized users can view precisely what is intended for them. However,