Groupware Pioneer

LiveWire leads the way into the future of collaborative computing

by Lee Sherman

Interpersonal computing has been one of NeXT's key buzzwords for several years, but only NeXTmail was trotted out to prove the concept. Now Adamation has shipped the first true piece of groupware for the NeXT. LiveWire is a technology for near-simultaneous group work across a network. In its current incarnation, it focuses on a group-document editor but also includes an intercom-like module called Bu-reau and promises of future hooks to other software.

LiveWire's document editor is on a par with Write Now but allows for multiple simultaneous users. Currently, collaborations are limited to text editing and the ability to drag in RTF, EPS, and TIFF files with their contents immediately reflected in the LiveWire window. Using the Lip Service panel, you can record voice messages for others in your workgroup. Voice cannot be transmitted across the network in real time, though, so it can't be used for live conferencing. LiveWire will also work via a modem hookup, assuming you've already established a dial-up connection. Adamation promises to add graphics tools in the future.

Bureau is used to send messages across the network like NeXT-mail, but without the delay. It also doesn't require you to keep track of user addresses. Instead, it maintains a link to NetInfo, providing Bureau with an internal database of network information.

LiveWire is a shrinkwrapped product but provides an architecture for other third-party developers to turn their single-user appli- cations into fully functional groupware. Users will see real benefits as developers like Pages and RightBrain use LiveWire's architecture to turn their single-user versions into groupware.

For groupware to work, you need a virtual network to which individual users can be instantly added and new groups can be es-tablished on the fly. LiveWire takes a democratic approach to the virtual network anyone can join the group at any time and each user is an equal participant in the process of composing a document.

Group editing requires a means for locking down a portion of a document to prevent conflicts when two people attempt to simultaneously edit the same text. Adamation's lock manager works effec- tively to keep conflicts from occurring. The locking interface is straight- forward: Just highlight what you want to change, make the changes, and click on an update button. The changes are instantly updated across the network. The interface suffers, however, from the need to maintain a split-screen view you can't edit the document directly.

Other aspects of the program are less than intuitive. For example, you have to remember to drag to select text. Double-clicking brings up an error panel stating that your selection conflicts with an existing one even when it doesn't.

For the most part though, the program avoids the clunky interface conventions seen in similar products on other platforms, with their multiple cursors and confusing icons. In its present form, LiveWire is more proof-of-concept than actual product. But as NeXT networks proliferate, and third parties support them, LiveWire could help to usher in a new wave of collaborative applications that bear the Adamation seal of approval.

Lee Shermanis a contributing editor to NeXTWORLD.


3 Cubes

One of the first true pieces of groupware, LiveWire allows multiple users to work collaboratively on the same document over a network. Limited to simple text edi-ting and sharing of sounds and graphics.

$195 per node (four-node minimum)

Adamation, 1435 Center St., Oakland, CA 94607.