This is one post in a series, describing challenges we need to overcome to make free software ubiquitous on the desktop.
Collaboration is the key ingredient in free software – the fact that developers can collaborate despite geographical and cultural differences between them is what has made it all possible. And our tools for collaboration are pretty good. I maintain you need three things before you get an explosion in collaboration: you need a common format, you need revision control (so you know who changed what, when) and you need a transport layer. In the case of free software, it was text files, CVS and email that underpinned much of the growth in the developer community.
Recently, wiki’s have shown the benefits of direct collaboration for content other than source code – and wiki’s also have those three ingredients – a format, revision control, and a transport layer.
We could do with some improved tools (I think Bazaar has all the ingredients for a next-gen version control system, for a start, take a look at it if you’ve not done so recently) in the free software community. But this post isn’t about that – it’s about bringing collaboration to chattering classes.
See – people who work with word processors and spreadsheets have rights too! And they could benefit dramatically from much better collaboration. Think about it – they often email documents around so that other people can edit something or review something. And keeping track of those documents and the changes is a bit of a black art – involving large amounts of what lawyers call “redlines” – Word documents with changes highlighted.
Wouldn’t it be better if they could just collaborate in the documents directly? And what if we could make that collaboration real-time, much as Gobby makes text file editing and collaboration real-time? If you’ve seen Croquet, you’ve likely seen a demo of £d virtualised collaboration between avatars… so this “real time collaboration” idea and the sensory immersion idea (and of course the presence challenge) are all related.
I’m pretty sure the proprietary software world is going to do this – so it’s an opportunity for us to be a few years ahead of the state of their art. Real, real-time collaboration on all sorts of file types will radically change the way people think of working on their PC’s.