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Collaborative software or groupware is application software designed to help people involved in a common task to achieve their goals.One of the earliest definitions of collaborative software is "intentional group processes plus software to support them".
In the early 1990s the first commercial groupware products were delivered, and big companies such as Boeing and IBM started using electronic meeting systems for key internal projects.
Lotus Notes appeared as a major example of that product category, allowing remote group collaboration when the internet was still in its infancy.
Whereas the groupware or collaborative software pertains to the technological elements of computer-supported cooperative work, collaborative work systems become a useful analytical tool to understand the behavioral and organizational variables that are associated to the broader concept of CSCW.
The following year, Engelbart's lab was hooked into the ARPANET, the first computer network, enabling them to extend services to a broader userbase.
The use of collaborative software in the work space creates a collaborative working environment (CWE).
Finally, collaborative software relates to the notion of collaborative work systems, which are conceived as any form of human organization that emerges any time that collaboration takes place, whether it is formal or informal, intentional or unintentional.
Groupware designers do not only have to address technical issues (as in traditional software development) but also consider the organizational aspects The patterns identify recurring groupware design issues and discuss design choices in a way that all stakeholders can participate in the groupware development process.
Groupware can be divided into three categories depending on the level of collaboration: The design intent of collaborative software (groupware) is to transform the way documents and rich media are shared in order to enable more effective team collaboration.
In terms of the level of interaction it allows, collaborative software may be divided into: real-time collaborative editing (RTCE) platforms that allow multiple users to engage in live, simultaneous and reversible editing of a single file (usually a document), and version control (also known as revision control and source control) platforms, which allow separate users to make parallel edits to a file, while preserving every saved edit by every user as multiple files (that are variants of the original file).
Collaborative software is a broad concept that overlaps considerably with computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW).
Understanding the differences in human interactions is necessary to ensure the appropriate technologies are employed to meet interaction needs.