|Volume 7, Issue 1 -
THE VIRTUAL COLLABORATORIUM
Pete Beckman, Todd Green, Juan Villacis, Indiana University
The ability to share information via the Internet took a giant step forward with the popularization of the World Wide Web. Suddenly, anyone with a Web browser had easy access to files, documents, and programs located around the world. Unfortunately, one limitation of the Web is its one-sidedness. Simply consuming information via a Web browser is insufficient for true collaboration and problem-solving. Collaborators need easy and secure methods to share and modify files, documents, and programs; maintain administrative information and mailing lists; and share computing resources.
The current techniques for sharing documentsanonymous ftp and mime- encoded emailare poor at best. Taking turns modifying a document and then emailing the current version to the other collaborators is slow and cumbersome. Easy-to-use collaboration via the Internet requires designing and implementing a solution from the ground up, not retrofitting email, anonymous ftp, and WWW cgi-bin scripts. One solution is the Virtual Collaboratorium (VC) from the Extreme! Computing Laboratory at Indiana University, a project of the National Science Foundation-funded PSEware (Problem Solving Environments) group.
The VC maintains a collection of relational databases, referred to as the VCDB, to authenticate members and to represent collaborations and their services. Among the initial services being developed for the VC are an administration tool (VCAdmin); a document (source code) management system that retains user modification history with full backtracking capabilities; and a mailing list manager with a searchable Web interface to archived mail messages. All of the VC clients will include a simple drag-and-drop graphical user interface written in Java.
The VCAdmin tool allows the director of the collaboratorium to add new users, and permits users, as enforced by security constraints, to create new collaborations (projects), join collaborations, and share services. The document management system is based on Concurrent Versions System (CVS), and will include a Java interface to the document repository.
At the heart of the system is the Virtual Collaboratorium Server Daemon (VCSD), a Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) 2.0 compliant server that acts much like the Unix inetd. Inetd, the Internet services daemon, listens for client connections, and invokes the server daemon, such as ftp or finger, as specified by a configuration file. The VCSD, however, is dynamic, extensible, object-oriented, and secure, and exploits the features that the VCDB provides. By utilizing CORBA 2.0 and an Interface Definition Language (IDL) specification for the VCSD, it is interoperable with a variety of clients, including those based on Java, such as Orbeline's Black Widow.
For more information, see http://www.extreme.indiana.edu/pseware/vc , and look for the release of the Virtual Collaboratorium software scheduled for July 1, 1996.
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