Posted by glv
on June 18, 2003 at 9:38 AM PDT
Last week I learned some interesting things about Java-based collaboration software.
(After the flurry of blogging last week at JavaOne, I've had to concentrate on work for a while. But I have a lot of notes from the conference that I'll continue to write about for a while.)
My introduction to collaboration software was a talk by Pavel Curtis at a USENIX conference in January 1995. He talked about his research project, Jupiter, at Xerox PARC. That talk spoiled me ... none of the available collaboration software has measured up to the vision of Jupiter that Curtis presented that day.
Curtis and most of the Jupiter team spun off a startup, PlaceWare . They reimplemented the core architecture of Jupiter in Java, and began selling a successful product, PlaceWare Conference Center. (Although it's a nice product, I've always been a bit disappointed that they didn't offer a product aimed at the same space as Jupiter -- passive, continuous team collaboration and awareness.) I was interested to learn during Jonathan Schwartz's general session on Tuesday morning that PlaceWare has been acquired by Microsoft. It'll be interesting to see how Microsoft deals over time with this large system built in Java -- and also whether Microsoft's stability and clout will allow PlaceWare to resurrect that original vision.
In the meantime, though, there are others in that space. After the Wednesday general session (notable primarily for demos gone wild ) I went to a session on the wonderful support for Java in Mac OS X. It was a great talk, with a really compelling and completely successful demo ... a demo of collaboration software that gave me an unmistakable sense of deja vu. Marratech is team collaboration software along the lines of the old Jupiter project.
The speaker, Alan Samuel, opened an online video conference with Serge Lachapelle and two other developers from Marratech. The Marratech group was in Sweden, and the conference was conducted over the public Internet. Four audio and video streams (although presumably the audio streams were dropped when there was relative silence) plus shared documents, with the other Marratech developers annotating the slides while Serge talked. Marratech is a Java product, and while it wasn't developed initially on OS X, the port was very easy and it's now their flagship platform. Best of all, the demo went off without a hitch.
I was particularly pleased with the quality of the audio. I was sitting right in front of one of the rear speakers in the lecture hall. Serge's audio feed, encoded in real time, shipped across the Internet, decoded on Alan's PowerBook, sounded just as good as Alan's voice, going directly into the Moscone microphone and sound system.
I think everyone present was impressed -- and the best part was that the Marratech guys in Sweden got to hear our applause.