This is provoked by a typically funny, nasty, and excellent piece by JWZ about why Everything You Know About Groupware Is Wrong. Sun is a highly-distributed company and thus you’d think we need all sorts of highly-advanced collaboration tools. Herewith the inside story.
At the recent Sun Analyst Summit, I was chatting with one of the guys from IDG, who noticed that I lived in Vancouver and wondered if this was a problem. I explained that Sun is highly-distributed and we’re pretty good at this stuff. “I suppose,” he said, “you must have some really advanced software for collaborative work.” “Beyond email, of course...” I began, but in fact a huge amount of Sun’s work is done by email; I’ve heard internal people give values for the total number of messages our email servers deliver every day which sound frankly ridiculous for a mere 32,000 employees, but they have no reason to lie.
“Beyond email, of course, well, there’s VPN, instant messaging, and wikis.” Because I, and most people I know, have a dozen Gaim/iChat/whatever windows open all the time for the people we work with all the time. And basically all of the substantial projects I’m involved with that have a design component also have a wiki in the mix somewhere. And of course you need VPN so you can do some of this stuff privately.
Chat and wikis are not exactly what the collaborative-future visionaries of past years had in mind. But they seem to hit an awfully-big 80/20 point. (Mind you, it helps if your chat software can do audio and video, and you have good telephone infrastructure.)
We can do better, of course; there’s this Sun-labs thing I’ve seen that looks like a real step forward. But for now, VPN, chat, and wikis feel like they’re at the centre of the near-term future.