Using Internet-style groupware on the intranet

The Usenet is the mother of all groupware applications. Yet intranets rarely exploit the technology, although it's widely deployed and readily available. Here's why, and how, you should.
Posted April 12, 2000

Jon Udell

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Almost every day of my working life brings a fresh demonstration of the power and utility of Internet-based groupware. Here's a typical example. While logged in to a client's Sun Microsystems Inc. Solaris server, I triggered this unfamiliar error message: "IO object version 1.20 does not match $ 1.15." What that meant, in general, is that something was wrong with a Perl module that I needed for an application I was building. What it meant specifically was a puzzle. I'm no Solaris expert, and Perl wasn't exhibiting this behavior on my own NT and Linux boxes. I faced the usual choices: fix the problem, or work around it. But which? And in either case, how?

For the last few years, the planetary knowledge base known as the Usenet has been my first line of defense in these situations. Sure enough, plugging the error message into the DejaNews search engine immediately yielded a posting rich with vital clues:

- A Canadian developer named Oleg had run into the same problem
- also on a Solaris system
- using the same slightly-outdated version of Perl that my client's system had

Nobody ever answered Oleg's plea for help. It's tempting to regard his solitary Usenet posting as a futile act of communication. In fact, it was extremely helpful to me (and possibly to others as well). Oleg's message enabled me to:

- Confirm that the problem wasn't specific to my client's system
- Strengthen a hypothesis that a Perl upgrade might fix the problem
- Contact Oleg by email and suggest the hypothesis to him
- Learn that he had already tested and rejected it
- Learn that he had contacted the module's authors and failed to solve the problem

Armed with this knowledge, I was able to spare my client the time and effort required to do an upgrade that wouldn't have helped me get my job done. I concluded that while the problem was likely fixable (most things are, eventually) the path of least resistance lay in the direction of a workaround. So I used CPAN -- the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network -- to find another Perl module that did what I needed without nasty side effects on Solaris.

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