8 free and open source intranet solutions reviewed.

November 5, 200928 Comments
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone

Intranets in many environments are still alive and well. Regardless of the particular technologies you use within your business, there are plenty of open source and free intranet solutions out there with a plethora of features  that developers can use or adapt to fulfil the needs of organisations without reinventing the wheel.

Following on from an earlier review of content management system – I’ve decided to examine  and review the featureset of each of the intranet solutions listed below, which hopefully will help you to decide which system to download, deploy or develop upon further.

1) MindTouch Core

URL: http://www.mindtouch.com/products/download
Features URL:
http://www.mindtouch.com/products/features
Written in: C# / Mono

mind1

Mindtouch core is one of the most established open source products on the web. Licensed under the General Public License and written in C# – it is ranked number 1 in collaboration by Sourceforge.net, and represents one of the leading web based products in the intranet space.

You can choose to setup the product for IIS with the source code – or download the VMWare image in one download, which can be run via VMPlayer. For convience I opted for the latter.

Its a pretty hefty install. Weighing in at 400MB odd, its the biggest in size of all the system reviewed here, and the most comprehensive in terms of features. It also has professional endorsement from companies such Mozilla, Microsoft, Intel, Intuit, The Washington Post, EMC, Harvard, Timberland, The US Army and The United Nations.

Once you’ve download the image, and loaded it with VMPlayer, Mindtouch core starts a virtual web server. It took me a while to realise that I needed to jump back to my local machine to get this to run. Ctrl+Alt jumps back to Windows to allow you to fire up a browser. My own server was available through – http://192.168.164.128, although this may have been the result of my own network setup. The console in the Virtual machine will let you know what its listening on anyway.

Once you get that running Mindtouch runs a brief installation procedure working out the admin passwords and what not. A few clicks later and you are into the main system.

The first thing that struck me about it, was the speed of editing. There really is no waiting around whilst it saves a page. Attaching images automagically categorises it as “an image”  – outputting an appropriate thumbnail in the page whereas other file types are treated just as files. FCKeditor (now released as CKEditor) is the rich text editor of choice. Which gets my vote!

Other notable features include “extensions” – which are in essence rich snippets of functionality available out of the box. For example, choosing insert RSS extension allow you to generate a list from an RSS feed.  Other extensions include support for Silverlight, Images,  Yahoo widget insertion amongst others.  There clearly has been alot of thought put into what an extensible system should include.

Authentication lets many Intranet solutions down. Not so in this case. MindTouch offers not one but NINE authentication providers including support for LDAP, Joomla and WordPress.

Skinning support out of the box is also brilliant. Mindtouch includes a few skins in the default install, which actually are quite visually impressive in their own right. You can of course create your own from CSS and HTML – as the code under the hood is also clean as a whistle. Skinning this baby would be a designers dream.

Without question – this is one of the best Intranet systems here. There really is too many brilliant yet easy to use features within this software. Whilst it is a bit of a monster to get going – you only have to play with it for a while to get a feel for its brilliance.

2)PBWiki

URL: http://www.pbwiki.com
Features URL:  http://pbworks.com/features.wiki
Platform: Hosted

pb-wiki

As you’d expect with a company name like the above, PBWiki offers a collaborative wiki – like solution for developing an intranet. Whilst it isn’t free of charge for business users -hobbyists,clubs or those using it for personal use can however benefit from it FOC.

It is a hosted solution, and on their home page (unsurprisingly) the free option is somewhat hidden underneath their commercial offerings. That said however it is definitely one of the cleanest, and easiest to use Wiki systems I’ve ever used, and the interface has been well polished.

Pages are categorised into Folders – and files can also be collated into these.  This structure leads to good overall organisation capabilities throughout your intranet, without forcing you down a particular path.  The free account offers up to 2GB of storage, which will take a while to fill if you don’t have many files to upload, or can live with translating them into web pages.

Again hidden from view, but extremely useful is the developer API which you can find under Settings > Advanced settings > Developer Interface when you login. This will let you utilise and manipulate the data you’ve worked hard at inputting into the system in other ways – if of course you have the techy / hacker skills.

3) Plone

URL: http://plone.org/
Features URL: http://plone.org/products/plone/features
Written in. Python.

plone

Plone is a content management system built on Zope. Plone is better suited for larger enterprise implementations where there is a large user base and workflow management needed.

As such the installer for the program wraps up Zope and Plone in a friendly “click and go” interface, allowing you to get stuck in without any difficulties. The web server launched on Windows out of the box. Whilst Plone is a content management system at heart and one that I missed in an earlier review, a good majority of its features lend themselves well to Intranets.

In particular there are add-ins for documents, and security features within the system which allow the pages to be limited to different sub groups. An extensive range of “portlets” – the term Plone uses for plugins are available to provide additional functionality.

There is a bit of a learning curve with this one. Don’t expect to be able to install and start using straight away. As with most feature rich software, its a case of effort in equals effort out. The documentation is comprehensive, and there is a very active community of users to help you along. If you are thinking of using Plone for an Intranet – there are a number of Intranet related tutorials out there to help you along.

4) GlassCubes

URL: http://www.glasscubes.com/
Features URL: http://www.glasscubes.com/features/
Platform. Hosted

glasscubes

Touting itself as an “online collaborative workspace”, Glasscubes provides many features which are perfect for organisations of all sizes. The interface is one of the more polished of all the systems reviewed here, and personally, I found it very easy to use.

There are a number of features available out of the box which position it an both as an Intranet and an extensive project management tool. It includes task management, collaborative forums, polls, calendars and user management to mention but a few of the features which positions it as a strong contender in the space. BT have also recently endorsed the product as the preferred supplier for its failed BT Workspace customers to migrate too. (The service recently having shut down).

Signup was remarkably quick. In fact there’s a lesson to be learned for application developers on – how low a barrier to entry they’ve made the signup process. Quick. Painless. No messing around. I was up and running in about 30 seconds. They didn’t even force me to confirm my email address. Love that.

Pricing for Micro-organisations (up to 3 users) – is free, although limited to the below features. Small business users would probably have to go for the £15 a month option (£180) a year.

100Mb storage space for your documents/files
Up to 100 contacts in your simple customer relationship management software
Up to 2 secure workspaces
Up to 3 users can access your account

Business Units can be split into “Cubes” and the appropriate permissions given to each section – this allows each of the features within the cubes to be available to the appropriate people. Contacts company wide can be browsed easily, and activity is output to a “stream” which lets you see activity across the system at a glance. A hosted solution may not suit everyone -but a great interface design with the right blend of features makes this one well worth a look.

5) Brushtail

URL: http://www.brushtail.org.au/
Features URL: http://www.brushtail.org.au/features.htm
Written in. PHP

brushtail

An older project, Brushtail is the one man project of David Funnell – a developer at Eastern Regional Libraries. Developed in PHP from the ground up it was developed to provide a web portal for library staff to easily access policies and procedures. In addition to an out of the box intranet it includes some custom applications including event calendars and event bookings, room bookings and an hours available notice board.

It took me a while to get this one going. Firstly I’m running WAMP locally, and I had to mess with the GZip compression modules. Failing that you can turn the below line in initialise_page.php off to get going without. Also don’t forget to RTFM, you’ll have to setup a database and set the permissions in a config file.

//if ($COMPRESSION == “on” && function_exists(ob_start)) {ob_start(“ob_gzhandler”);}

The software currently runs on an earlier version of PHP – so 5.3.0 throws errors all over the shop. Although I’m not natively a PHP coder – I may work a little at upgrading some of these depreciated functions, as on the whole the software seems quite useful. In the meantime to turn depreciated function errors off in PHP you can set

error_reporting =E_ALL & ~E_DEPRECATED

in PHP.ini to get you up and running.

Bottom line- takes some work to bring up to date; but may be worth it if you are building on top of the existing features. Apart from that, the code seems well organised and easy to understand, and it may suit some requirements out of the box – especially if your organisation is of a similar nature. It isn’t however enterprise level software, so prepare to get your hands dirty.

6) Twiki

URL: http://www.twiki.org/
Features URL: http://www.twiki.org/
Written in. Perl

twiki

Of all the collaborative Wiki’s Twiki has one of the most impressive list of active users. Enterprises such as BT, Sun, Disney, Yahoo, Motorola and Texas Instruments all use Twiki as a business tool within their enterprise. If you aren’t convinced by the client list alone – take a look at some of the testimonials.

Twiki runs on Perl – which again opens it up to Windows and Linux platforms (via ActivePerl).  My testing machine was on Windows, so I had the extra drama of getting this working.

For many, a traditional Wiki represents the perfect solution for collaboration, with anyone able to edit content at will, and ultimately create a knowledgebase for use within an organisation. Twiki is a bit different, in that it is a structured wiki – giving the flow and structure ack to the solution . TWiki employs a templating system for content, which allows you to identify similarilaties in the content your users are creating, and provide a template to suit. Special content tags can also be used to assign actions to different users, via email. This provides added workflow benefits which many will find useful – and foreign in the context of a traditional wiki.

7) HyperGate

URL: http://www.hipergate.org
Features URL:
http://www.hipergate.org/about/modules.jsp
Written in: Java

hipergate

Probably the first thing you’ll notice about HyperGate is that the interface has been almost certainly created by programmers.  In other words, it could do with a spring clean, and there’s definitely room for a talented UI designer to grab the bull by the horns on this one and donate some much needed care and attention to this part of the project. Logging into Hipergate feels like you’ve stepped into a bit of a timewarp.

That said, the features and code base look to be well established, and they also have significant documentation created, which for many open source projects is the first ball to get dropped. Not so in this case.

Hipergate is as much a CRM system as it is an Intranet platform. Its features include sales automation, customer service, email marketing and project management.  Based on Java /JSP for PostgreSQL, Oracle or SQL Server it supports more enterprise database systems than you can shake a stick at. For some; this will be a major selling point.

This suite is multi-company capable, and can be used in a single company, a corporate group or working as an ASP solution capable of serving an unlimited quantity of single customers, again a useful tool especially if your organisation is spread across multiple sites.

8) Open Atrium

URL: http://openatrium.com/
Features URL:
http://openatrium.com/features
Written in: PHP / Drupal

open-atrium

Open Atrium from the team at Development Seed, is based upon the Drupal platform. Firing it up in WAMP server gave me a number of errors unfortunately, as PHP 5.3 is not yet supported for Drupal 6. (Planned for Drupal 7). I was able to modify some of the core Drupal files to stop it complaining, but just something worth noting before you start.

The features of the software are relatively basic, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With the majority of intranet users actually needing administrative permissions to add content, simple is good.

Groups are used to separate content areas logically, company departments e.g. Marketing, Sales etc. would be prime candidates for Groups. Content can then be organised within each of these groups into “Books”. Books represent logical information sections with child book “pages”. This allows you to group like content inside each department, and organise books of content inside each department.

File management could do with improvement though, as many organisations have files associated within each department. At present open atrium only seems to allow files to be attached to book pages as opposed to organised outside of a “book”.

Honourable Mentions

http://matrix.squiz.net/ – MySource Matrix
Google sites – Very quick to put together. Hosted.
Kentico CMS – Free edition available with limitations.
MetaDot – Portal server released under GPL

Filed in: Reviews
Tagged with:

About the Author ()

Paul is a regular 30 year old web bloke / programmer with a penchant for online marketing. This blog is a personal outlet, with an eclectic mix of articles.

Comments (28)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Jordy Pickel says:

    A lot of clients hear the phrase “Open Source” and tend to dismiss it as a low-end product. While it’s incredibly important to have a marketing strategy with a website when it comes time to build and design according to a client’s needs, using open source software is an easy way to decrease the end cost to the client. This article shows that there is a great deal of applications that allow for more time to be spent on design, and less to be spent on “redesigning the wheel”.

  2. Shawn Bird says:

    Very interesting article, I don’t think I have seen this discussed before.

  3. Kim Sheppard says:

    TWiki just announced a strategic alliance at Enterprise 2.0 with WiiKno Inc as the prefered system integrator for deploying TWiki system if an IT organization does not want to do it themselves.

  4. You did it again Paul, thanks. I am about to quote on a new intranet solution and was about to delve into a stack of research on the latest and greatest – you made my life easier (again!)
    Phil

  5. Paul Anthony says:

    Glad it helped a bit Phil,

    from what I could see there weren’t many roundups out there on the web on intranets at the minute..kinda feels like they’ve died a bit in the US especially. But this side of the pond I still see plenty of people asking for this sort of thing, hence the post!

    Paul

  6. John Marc says:

    It’s hard to reference our intranet ;) But we use Kentico CMS – free edition for it. It’s without any cost and time limitation, written in C# on a ASP.NET platform.

  7. Paul Anthony says:

    Hi John.

    Stands to reason that someone from Kentico would use Kentico internally. I have demo’d it before, but well worth a mention.

    Paul.

  8. Maris says:

    Thanks, you helped me a lot with this post.

  9. Paul Anthony says:

    Hi Maris – glad it helped!

  10. Wow, I’m bummed I missed this when it originally posted. Great work. Thanks.

  11. I’m curious — what do you think of Zimbra (www.zimbra,com)? They combine the email-inbox into the collaboration environment?

  12. Paul Anthony says:

    Hi Daniel,

    I haven’t used it extensively, will have to give it a more indepth look.

    Paul.

  13. Steven says:

    Your review was good. I was looking to compare open source solutions available.

  14. Links says:

    Very useful stuff. Thanks a lot!

  15. Dominic T says:

    I was wondering what you thought about Liferay as well. Is it on the same level as these?

  16. Paul Anthony says:

    Hi Dominic – I have no experience personally of Liferay – It certainly looks like a mature open source project for students.

    Paul.

  17. Jez says:

    Hi Guys

    We used to use Zimbra and I see it more as a shared calendar and imap mailbox solution, an MS Exchange replacement.

    We used it for 2 years – then moved to google apps as it was less support overhead.

    With an internal IT resource Zimbra was pretty good – but staff feedback since moving to google is that its better.

    Jez

  18. Jeff says:

    In regards to Open Atrium,

    “At present open atrium only seems to allow files to be attached to book pages as opposed to organized outside of a “book”.”

    if you are familiar with Drupal, all you have to do is create a new content type to house your files for that group and then restrict permissions. With all of the capabilities of Drupal, Open Atrium is your absolute best way to go.

    Also too, Open Atrium is not based on Drupal. Open Atrium IS Drupal. Specifically, it is a “Profile” install of Drupal.

  19. Jagz says:

    Nice article. We use Precurio and its wonderful

  20. Tim says:

    A great list of Open source Intranet software solutions.

  21. bhargav says:

    This is a requirement for Office Intranet Solution. Features are given below. Check if anybody has the max of features..

    Corporate Info
    Dept Info
    Policies- Employee Handbook
    Holiday Calendar
    User id’s and passwords for each employee
    Open & Close tasks to employees from PM
    Open & Close requests to HR & Admin (Requests from employees will be visible to Directors.HR & Admin needs to address the issues and close them ontime)
    Time sheets (Weekly time reports)
    Events
    Leave procedure (User fills up the leave application and sends it to PM for approval.If approved the balance of leaves should automatically be deducted and should be show on the screen)
    Web conferencing
    Org Chart
    Suggestion Box
    Travel booking
    Training
    Jobs
    Announcements

    Is There Any Free Source for The above REQ.

  22. hassan says:

    Bhargav I like your features mentioned if you get any help with this, so share it with me.

  23. GoshaD says:

    I think it’s time you repost the article with updates, since a lot more solutions have appeared, including really big ones, like Bitrix24

Leave a Reply

Back to Top