by Wolfgang Appelt
The Basic Support for Cooperative Work (BSCW) system developed at GMD enables group cooperation over the World Wide Web. This is carried out by providing a so-called "shared workspace" into which members of a group may upload a variety of objects such as documents, pictures, tables, spreadsheets or links to other World Wide Web pages. Dedicated BSCW services keep each user aware of the activities within the workspaces such as uploading, updating or reading of documents by other users, and thus provide important information for efficient cooperation.
The first version of the system was publically released in October 1995 (see ERCIM-News No. 21, page 22). The system consists of the so-called BSCW server, a modification of a common World Wide Web server (NCSA httpd 1.4.2), which organizes and manages the BSCW shared workspaces and their user groups, and a small "helper" application which has to be used in conjuction with the users' World Wide Web browsers to upload objects onto the server. (With advanced World Wide Web browsers which handle the PUT function of the HTTP protocol - eg, recent versions of Netscape - this helper is no longer required.)
The primary target group for the system are locally distributed groups of technical or management professionals, possibly from different companies or organizations, as is typically the case in trans-national research projects of ERCIM members. Since the helper applications were made available for Unix, Windows and Macintosh platforms, the main problem in such groups, namely the heterogenity of the systems used by their members, is solved to a large extent since using the BSCW shared workspace provides immediate cooperation facilities across all commonly used platforms.
GMD established a BSCW server for public access so that any user could register at the server, create groups for cooperation and collaborate with colleagues using BSCW workspaces. Within the first five months, almost one thousand users from all over the world registered and established well over one hundred workspaces for cooperation. Some user groups comprise up to several dozen members. Furthermore, since the code of the BSCW server is publically available for non-commercial applications, other BSCW servers have been set up at places outside of GMD, for instance, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
Version 2 of the BSCW system was released in March 1996. It is a complete re-implementation of the system and has Computer Graphics Interface scripts, so a BSCW server can be built on top of any World Wide Web server. Furthermore, the functionality and the user interface are enhanced considerably.
BSCW on the Web at: http://bscw.gmd.de/