Update, October 2016: Wow, this group of articles is outdated! I’m leaving them as writing samples, but they aren’t useful as data anymore. While my kids are grown and out of the house, I did want to note that I’ve recently become aware of Cozi, which in its premium version does nearly everything I was searching for in family groupware and is extremely affordable. If you’re looking for this kind of product, do give them a try!
Yes, I do know that this may seem excessively geeky to some, but for the past few years, Sam and I have been working towards having groupware that is suitable for use by our family. By groupware, I mean software that is designed to share information among multiple users on a network. That sounds like it would be easy to find, but it isn’t. And I really don’t think we’re the only ones looking, either—it’s not uncommon to have LANs in homes now. Families have always shared information, whether it be on a bulletin board, notes on the fridge, or a calendar in the kitchen. I’ve gotten spoiled by the information-sharing capabilities of groupware in work settings, and now I want the same thing tailored for the home.
My opinions have changed on some things since I originally wrote this section of my site. We all have PDAs now. We’ve found that any solution that cannot be accessed from multiple locations isn’t worth our time. We’ve implemented a Linux server in our home and experimented with several different applications. I’ve become much more aware of the open source community as exemplified by the projects at SourceForge. In fact, PHPGroupware came very close to exactly what we’re looking for.
At the moment, we’re using Airset synchronized with Palm Desktop on our PCs and PDAs, with reminders sent to us via email and SMS. That’s working quite well. We still don’t have all the items on my wish list met by any means, but we can see each others’ calendars, and the family address book is available from anywhere. If my family of origin ever decides to use it, we can even plan extended family events using a shared calendar.
We also have wikis and blogs for various purposes. They’re great for keeping track of homeschooling and roleplaying game information.
- How family groupware would differ from business groupware
- Requirements and wish lists
- What we’ve already used or evaluated
If I were a programmer I suppose I could write something myself. If I wanted to learn to code, this would be a perfectly good—if ambitious—project to use in learning. I am not, however, a developer, and I don’t really have any ambitions in that direction. And while I have designed some fairly sophisticated databases in the past, and figure that I could probably find a way to set up an MS Access database that would do most of what I’m looking for, I’m not excited about it and I know I wouldn’t do it as well as someone who is a software engineer. There are more people out there who want this kind of product. If it were available, I’m sure that people who haven’t really thought about it would find it useful and start using it. So why isn’t anyone making it yet?