Mine the Harvest

O3Spaces – Open Office and MS Office Collaboration

by on Jan.30, 2009, under College Stuff, Linux


Recently at school an issue once again reared its head, and of course needed to be solved with Linux.

You see, my school – St. Petersburg College – uses softwares for on-line classes that is very limited. One of the most significant things it lacks is any ability for students to collaborate on projects. The most it offers is private discussion boards, but no ability to collaborate on papers, etc. This makes it extremely difficult for a team to work on a paper or outline together. The only ready options were to use FTP or Google docs. FTP is not realistic for lay users, too unwieldy, no version control and no file lock out method, etc. Google docs is okay, but I wanted my own solution and there are those whose opinions make them not wish to use Google docs – data mining, etc.

A quick look on Wikipedia found a  good article comparing group ware and collaboration software and this lead in turn to O3Spaces. This is a pretty interesting application. While not open source there is a community edition available which allows up to 10 users to collaborate.

Of particular interest to me was the cross platform capabilities it offered. Users of both Open Office and Microsoft Office can download a desktop connector that allows them to edit documents and sync them with the O3Spaces server. As most classmates use Windows, while I use Linux and Solaris, this was perfect. (There is also a client for OS X as well, so you definitely have your bases covered here.)

I downloaded the community edition and found installation to be remarkably easy.  It only requires the server to have Java Runtime Environment installed. After that O3Spaces can be installed by a single RPM. It is self contained, including its own Tomcat Java application server, database, etc. and just puts everything into /opt. You simply start the service with an init script and login to yourwebsite.com:8095/Studio and you are off.

To get the full benefit, users download the Workplace Assistant. Downloading this launches a Java applet which installs a small client in the users task bar, either in Windows or Linux. (I did have some trouble getting the Java Webstart applet to run correctly in Linux, but was able to get it to work. I found running it as root from the /tmp directory worked.) Once the Workplace Assistant is installed, users may use it to download and install the plug in for either Microsoft Office or Open Office. This allows you to open documents directly from the web site, edit them and simple click on “File –> Save” in your Office application and what do you know – it uploads your changed version. When you close the document it unlocks it on the server and increments the version number.

Built in version control is very easy to use and makes reverting changes very easy. There is also a built in discussion forum for users to communicate on.

Overall, I am pretty impressed with this application and recommend it. Easy set up (despite some trouble shooting getting the Java applet to work), a sleek AJAX interface and cross platform interoperability make it a good solution. Commercial and hosted versions are available, though for me the 10 user community version is perfect.

The only difficulties I had were in installing the Java Workplace Assistant. There is a wiki and a forum you can look to. One other add thing is access to full documentation is delayed for 2 days after registration, which I found odd – so I ended by flying blind on it, but it was not too difficult in any event.

I very much like having the ability to share documents with fellow students and look forward to test driving this further with them.

If you need a similar collaboration solution, you might want to test drive O3spaces yourself and let me know how it goes!

Pete Eby

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