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Preface

Preface

A few years ago, as a senior editor at BYTE Magazine, I reviewed software and wrote about technologies and industry trends. Everything changed in the spring of 1995 when I became BYTE 's executive editor for new media. My charter was to do what every high-tech magazine felt compelled to do in 1995: jump on the Web bandwagon. It was a dream assignment that I tackled with gusto. At first I focused on clever and efficient ways to transform BYTE into an electronic publication. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Web. Just weeks into the job, it dawned on me that our content online wasn't just a publication. I began to see that it was fast becoming a suite of Internet-based groupware applications. And I began to see myself as primarily a developer of such applications.

What's Internet groupware? I define it as four interrelated disciplines:

  • A way of using standard Internet (web, mail, and news) clients, servers, and protocols

  • A way of building web-, mail-, and news-based applications to create, transform, organize, transmit, search, and publish electronic documents

  • A way of managing sets of documents that contain semistructured data representing much of the intellectual capital of an enterprise

  • A way of deploying web, mail, and news services in support of these activities

I spent three years combining and recombining these disciplines in order to create a wide variety of groupware solutions. Some helped my own department—a team of three—collaborate more effectively. Others helped bind together the whole staff of BYTE Magazine, a distributed company that had primary offices in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and California. Still others linked BYTE's staff to an online population of several million and enabled these online users to collaborate among themselves.

I'd dreamed of, but never thought I'd be able to build, applications that could:

  • Be used by 10,000 people a day

  • Span multiple zones of privacy

  • Connect clients in any location to servers in any location

  • Extend HyperText Markup Language (HTML) authoring capability to naive users

  • Manage structured and semistructured information

  • Run on any client or server platform (Unix, NT)

  • Tap into distributed backend services

  • Scale across clusters of servers

  • Be written in any language (C, Perl, Java™, Unix shell, Visual Basic)

And I'd certainly never have guessed that these applications would turn out to be relatively easy to build. Why is this so? Not because I'm the world's most clever guy. If that were true, this story would be far less compelling. Instead, the answer lies at the heart of the Internet itself. Its applications and data structures rely on simple ideas and protocols. That's why the Internet flourished beyond what many savvy trendsetters—including, most notably, Microsoft—ever thought possible. You can make this simplicity work for you, too. This book explains how.

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