It appears that Apple Computer is making at least a tentative challenge to Microsoft NetMeeting and WebEx Communications in the online groupware space with the new iCal and iChat features in the Leopard edition of Mac OS X.
When Apple Computer gave the first Leopard public preview, the demos included new features of the iChat messaging application that allowed users to share presentations and slideshows.
In addition, Apple CEO Steve Jobs briefly mentioned that Apples calendaring application, iCal, would gain a group calendar feature.
Though presented as consumer-friendly, these two new versions could represent Apples strongest challenge yet to enterprise solutions such as WebEx Communications Web meeting software as well as Microsofts NetMeeting and Exchange products.
Leopards iCal will include the ability for groups to make collective calendars, Apple officials said.
Furthermore, authorized users will be able to view, add or change items on a shared calendar.
Individuals also will be able to have their own personal calendars, which can sync automatically when the user goes online.
They can also be able to share documents by placing them in an “event dropbox,” which authorized users can access.
Mac OS X Leopard Server, the server-centric version of Apples operating system, will include iCal Server.
This feature, which Apple calls “the first calendar server for Mac OS X,” manages the group calendars in a workgroup organized around a Mac server.
“Leopard Server includes Open Directory and is pre-configured with the necessary schema for iCal Server. Networks with an existing directory service—such as Active Directory—can deploy Leopard Server for local hosting of all calendar and collaboration data while continuing to use the existing directory for user log-in and authentication,” says Apples Web page for iCal Server.
Apple executives stressed that, unlike with Microsofts Exchange Server, iCal Server has no per-user license, so that any number of users can access the system at no additional charge.
Apple has also made the iCal Server pre-release source code available for download to developers as open source under the Apache 2.0 license.
Apple is in fact stressing the open source friendliness of iCal, and that it is based on the CalDAV open standard, which is maintained by CalConnect.org.
This organization counts Apple, Lotus, Oracle, Novell, IBM, Mozilla, OSAF, Symbian and other corporations among their members, along with many major universities.
The goal of working with the CalDAV standard, Apple said, was for seamless interoperability between calendaring applications—an iCal user could send an event to a Lotus Notes user, for example. Talking to Microsofts Outlook would require the use of a plug-in.
In addition, Apple said, iCal Server would support other online calendar services, including Mozillas Sunbird and Lightning, Open Software Application Foundations Chandler and Novells Evolution 2 calendar and any others that work with CalDAV.
Apple officials said that because CalDAV is a set of protocols, many of which are Web-based, third-party developers might be able to create Web-based applications that work with iCal.
iChat also will have its server analogue with iChat Server. Its enterprise-friendly new features will include chat log archiving, XMPP support, Kerberos support and secure server-to-server data encryption.
On the user side, its ability to share desktop screens and views of applications could heighten demand.
With users able to share presentations while commenting on them, the need for specialized and sometimes pricey desktop sharing solutions could slow. And, said Apple, this feature could be used for unofficial troubleshooting of remote users.