Workgroup Web Forum:
Dah Ming Chiu, Digital Equipment Corporation
David Griffin, Digital Equipment Corporation
Tools and applications for WWW-based group collaboration
One of the most important technology trends in the past few years
is the fast expansion of the Internet and the gaining popularity of
the World Wide Web.
We believe that several specific strengths of the WWW make it very
attractive a platform for developing collaborative applications
- the wide availability of web browsers on a large number of platforms
- the core technology being based on a set of widely accepted standards such as HTML, MIME types and Internet naming
- the coverage and extensibility of the resource naming conventions (URL)
- extensibility via CCI and CGI interface
- relatively inexpensive
At present, the WWW technology is also lacking in several areas, most
- The standard http server's information repository is based on the file
system, whereas groupware typically require a database as the repository
for potentially a large set of information objects
- Althought the client can access a wide set of information types from
the server, the client can only deposit a limited set of information
types to the server (those supported in the html forms now). There is
an Internet Draft Standard for doing "upload", but there is no
implementations of it forthcoming in the browsers.
- Currently the standard version of the protocol does not support methods
for client to keep state information associated with a sequence of client
server interactions. This forces some applications to "store" the state
information in URLs which causes the URLs to be less portable.
- The browsers are usually single-window-based, and lack in capabilities
for customizing toolbar and other graphical user interface support
often found with contemporary desktops applications (such as rubover-
text-display, drag-and-drop etc).
- Since the server supports mostly read access, there is no concept of
write access control (for object creation, modification and deletion).
We envision that the WWW technology has the potential to become the
primary infrastructure for network computing. Despite the current
limitations to the technology, we started working on building
collaborative applications based on the WWW almost a year ago. Our
forthcoming product is called the Workgroup Web Forum.
Workgroup Web Forum is both a set of collaborative applications as
well as a toolkit for customizing and building additional
Our toolkit is based on an object-oriented framework containing
features complementary to the strengths of the existing technology.
Some of the key features found in Web Forum are:
- a built-in database for efficient filtering and sorting functions
- modular definitions of applications, in terms of views, forms, toolbars, and access control templates
- inheritance, allowing easy customization
- user account management, including extensible user profiles
- upload client applets on popular platforms (conforming to draft standard)
- access control on all user functions, integrated with authentication
provided by the WWW server
- a graphical user interface library for defining button, toolbar, form
and other graphical decorations modularly
- a built-in content indexing and search engine, together with an interface
for incorporating other search engines.
Examples of applications are:
- Discussion forums
- Document sharing
- Problem Report Tracking
The Web Forum applications are written using an extended version of
Tcl scripting language [Ousterhout]. The use of an interpretive
language makes the implementation easy to adapt, maintain and
customize. The implementation of certain key components
(e.g. database and search engine) of the toolkit, however, are written
in C for better performance.