Collaborative Computing Environments for HEP
|Category||Used in HEP?||Example Projects and Tools|
|Chat||No (?)||WebChat, NetMeeting|
|Collaborative Drawing and Writing||Unknown||GroupSketch, Conversation Board, Emacs with DistEdit, Netmeeting|
|Collaborative Software Management||Widely||CVS, RCS, SCCS|
|Groupware toolkits||Little||Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange, Netscape SuiteSpot, EDMS/CEDAR, GroupKit, ProcessWeaver|
|Newsgroups||Yes, widely||Navigator, Internet Explorer, rn, news|
|Virtual Labs and Rooms||Very little||TeamWave Workplace, UARC, AAEM|
|Shared Windows||Unknown||NCSA Xcollage (defunct)|
|Virtual Reality||Marginal||VENUS, CAVE,DIVE,MASSIVE|
|Web-based conferencing||Increasingly||CMSDOC, WebCrossing, WebNotes, WebBoard, NetMeeting|
|Web-based calendars||Very little||WebCal|
What is driving the market for the tools shown above? As PCs become more
and more networked, small groups of workers become potential new customers for groupware
tools. Mature single user applications can be embellished with groupware features. Telecom
companies seek to increase demand for networks by promoting multimedia tools that make use
of them. In these halcyon days of "free" (often as far as the end user is
concerned) networks, the interest in Internet-based communications packages is at fever
pitch. Commercially, the platform being targetted is the PC, and Microsoft in particular
has recently announced and made available for free download, an impressive set of
groupware applications that, almost overnight, have obsoleted more mature products.
Apart from commercial factors, there is considerable interest in the
academic community in wide area project collaboration, and this is spawning R&D effort
in leading edge applications such as virtual collaborative worlds, and so on.
This category is broken down into four sub-categories: Pure videoconferencing, Meetingware, Web conferencing and MUDs.
This is technology that allows two or more users to interact using
audio, video or both. It is covered by a set of standards relating to CODEC, ISDN and
packet-based conferencing, which are more or less supported by the available tools. For
HEP, the importance of adherence to available standards in this area is recognised. The
following are of particular significance: T.120 (data), H.320 (ISDN video), H.323 (LAN
audio/video) and H.324 (MODEM audio/video): all ITU standards for multimedia
teleconferencing. Moreover, the focus in the industry is now on inter-operability between
tools and systems, which is reassuring.
Traditionally, HEP has used the packet-based MBONE tools, originally
from LBL, but now also from UCL and elsewhere. These include vic, vat, sdr, rat and so on
[Kumar], and they can be used on most platforms (including the Windows PC).
The MBONE tools are targetted for use with multicast. Very recently,
Microsoft announced its NetShow product [NetShow], which is compatible with IP multicast.
NetShow is a networked multimedia tool, and comes with clients to view material and tools
to source it. It delivers live and on-demand material and uses the latest
bandwidth-conserving and streaming software technology to do so. It comes as part of the
Microsoft Information Server 3.0, although clients exist for Windows '95, and will shortly
be available for Unix and the PowerPC Macintosh. HEP might make good use of such a tool
for providing tutorial material (a good candidate might be the Paul Kunz's C++ course ...
filmed and made available on a NetShow server at each LHC institute).
For point-to-point telephone conversations across the Internet, there are many tools available. Their proliferation is probably temporary, since they are rapidly being obsoleted by audio/video phones.
This category is for tools which integrate videoconferencing as part of
a suite of subtools to support meetings. The latest generation of Internet-based
meetingware available for the Windows platform offers integrated Email, FAX, video and
audio conferencing, together with shared files, whiteboards, and clipboards. The current
leader is Microsoft NetMeeting [Netmeeting]. The platform for which the most tools exist
(by far) is the PC.
NetMeeting offers support for the ITU standards, built in audio and
video, shared whiteboard, shared clipboard, and a chat window. It is integrated in
Microsoft's Web browser, Internet Explorer 3.0. With NetMeeting, one can share just about
all information on the PC with another person. There is full desktop integration. For
example, copying a piece of a local document into the shared clipboard causes it to appear
in the other conference participants' clipboards too. Chat online is supported either by
typing or by talking. The whiteboard can be used to discuss, modify and annotate diagrams
In addition, shared applications are supported. For example, one can
allow other people to watch the build progress of an application being worked on in
Developer Studio ... or one can allow them to take over Developer Studio and make their
own edits to the code.
Glancing aside at tools available on Unix, we note TeamWave Workplace [TeamWave], an example of use of which is shown below. This tool was originally developed at the University of Calgary, but is now commercialised. It runs on Unix, Windows and Macintosh platforms, and provides shared whiteboards, chat rooms, and customizable groupware applets with a persistent work environment.
This is group discussion using text messages. It has its origins in vintage 70's systems such as "Confer", which ran on mainframes. The first Web based tool was called WIT [Luotonen], developed at CERN in '94 as a "quick hack" by Ari Luotonen. It featured discussion threads which took the form of a continuously expanding hierarchical tree. There followed HyperNews, a much simpler tool, but with the grandiose intent of obsoleting Usenet news and of storing all discussion or conference material indefinitely. Since then, there has been a considerable number of tools come to market, most of which offer the following features:
Currently available systems include WebCrossing, WebNotes and WebBoard (see [Woolley] for a complete list). In HEP, the CMS experiment for example, has developed its own Web-based conferencing service called CMSDOC [Porte].
These applications are also referred to as Multi-User Dimensions. The
basic idea is that, using a text-based system, the user enters an environment that
contains objects and other users, and then interacts with the environment by typing
commands. The main use of MUDs is in game playing coupled with social intercourse between
the participants. So what role do these have to play as collaborative work tools? An
interesting application of a MUD was made by Rmy Evard at Northeastern University, where
an attempt was made to create a replica of the work environment. Quoting from [Evard]
"The original environment that we built was a replica of the building that we work in. Everyone built their office, we implemented a network that one could travel through, and we constructed a central meeting place. But we found that having one real-life version of our urban university was enough. Instead, we created a virtual space that is different and somewhat more pleasant, and this has seemed to change the mood of the MUD for the better.
We have found that the MUD is an effective way to hold pre-arranged
meetings for people who can't be in the same physical location. We have had virtual
systems meetings three or four times, each about various topics. We save a transcript of
the meeting and email it to people who weren't present, and refer to it when trying to
remember exactly what issues had been raised. Using a MUD in this way is not as
time-effective as meeting in reality, but is at least as useful as having a conference
We use the MUD as a coordination mechanism. People tend to announce on
the MUD what they are doing in real life. Phrases like "Jim heads into the machine
room to check the tapes", "Ivan is about to reboot amber", or "I'm
hungry, who's interested in lunch?" are commonly seen. We have found this to be so
useful that we have encouraged it by writing utilities that people can use to indicate why
they are "idling" in the MUD. A character is called "idle" when they
do not respond to activities within the MUD. This normally happens because the user has
quit paying attention to the MUD for some reason. When a character is idling "for
office visitors" or "to drive home", the other participants in the MUD can
look at that character and see why it idled. In this way, we use the text-based virtual
reality to reflect what is happening in real life. Before the MUD, we saw each other only
at meetings, or after running all over the building trying to locate each other."
The users of such a MUD would appear to be limited to those people who
spend the vast majority of their time in front of their workstation screens. However, its
use as a user support tool can be imagined, particularly if the MUD contained
"bots" (expert systems who appear in the MUD as other users). Imagine the
following interaction in a CERN Computer Centre MUD:
|<New User> enters the User Consultancy Room|
|There are rows of shelves with manuals|
|An eerie light enters through a window giving onto the machine room to the West|
|There are five other people in the room|
|<New User> says: "Where is the CERN Phone book?"|
|<Bill> says: "I want to check in some 3480 cartridges"|
|<Helper> says: "<New User> look at http://consult.cern.ch/xwho"|
|<Helper> says: "<Bill> go to the tape vault in Building 513"|
|<New User> says: "Thanks Helper"|
In the above, "Helper" is a bot, trained to answer common UCO questions. New User and Bill are MUD users, perhaps physically located at other ends of the site.
The tools that belong to this category are designed to alleviate paperwork, and help in the management of projects involving several people.
Some of the members of this category are offered as toolkits that allow
programmers to develop groupware applications. One such is GroupKit [Roseman] from the
University of Calgary. This is based on Tk/Tcl and supported on Unix, Windows and the
Macintosh. It comes with example applications such as the FileViewer (seen below), which
allows a document to be examined and edited by several users at a time.
Workflow tools help in the management of project schedules. They allow
the sending, reception and annotation of electronic documents, and the triggering of
messages to be sent when certain conditions have been met.
The basic building block is an Electronic Data Management System (EDMS),
which provides a structure in which all types of information used to define, manufacture,
and support products are stored, managed, and controlled. Typically, it is used to work
with electronic files and database records, including the project schedule plan and the
project resource documents. The functional view of CERN's CEDAR project [Rousseau], an
EDMS for detectors and accelerators is shown below as an example of how such a tool
Drawing and Writing tools are just that: they allow a group of people to
draw or write in a document concurrently. An example of a typical tool, the
"Conversation Board" [Brinck], is shown below. The important requirement in this
category is WYSIWIS (What You See Is What I See). Other examples of such tools include XMX
[Bazik] and XTV[UNC], which essentially multiplex X displays between several user
Electronic mail is the most widely used and platform-independent groupware system. It is the lowest common denominator collaborative computer tool. HEP has made heavy use of Email for aeons, and it is not further treated here.
This is also widely used in HEP. Most Web browsers have built in News readers. It is interesting to note that the thriving market for dedicated Web conferencing products shows that News-capable browsers are not sufficient for Web-based conferencing. The conclusion is that the best interface for a news reader is given by a dedicated tool.
These were mainly designed in the late '70s as dial-up systems dedicated to the exchange of files between people. There are Web-based BBS systems, such as WebLines [WebLines], available. In general, BBS systems are not used by HEP, and their functionality is, in any case, completely duplicated by other CSCW tools.
This category contains tools that allow users to enter virtual spaces,
manipulate objects within them, and interact with other users "present" in the
space. Typically, users are embodied as humanoid shapes called "avatars". Of
course, the games market has been driving technology advances in this area. However, more
serious applications are available, notably those which allow remote use of laboratory
equipment (these are sometimes called "collaboratories"). The Distributed
Collaboratory Experiment Environments (DCEE) Programme [Johnston] is an initiative funded
by the U.S. Department of Energy, whose goal is to allow remote manipulation of expensive
and sophisticated laboratory equipment. Several projects make up the program. One good
example is the AAEM/TPM project [Zaluzec] which is an on-going R&D effort at Argonne
National Laboratory to provide live video imaging and remote control of an electron
microscope facility. Another is the remote control of the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at
LBL for SpectroMicroscopy, a project which is also making use of electronic notebooks.
Apparently separate from the DCEE programme, UARC [Clauer], the Upper
Atmosphere Research Collaboratory, from the University of Michigan, is an application that
provides access to real-time instrument data and provides support for a shared working
environment among researchs that are conducting a weather experiment. The interfaces for
this application have recently been re-written in Java, and allow multi-user Web access to
view data on space weather.
Closer to home, the VENUS [DeGennaro] project allows HEP physicist and
engineers to navigate around 3D models of detectors and experimental areas. This is a
powerful simulation which can be of invaluable use at the design stage, not to mention its
power as a publicity tool.
Why are virtual environments so compelling for CSCW? Because they
provide the ability to present a large amount of information in a naturally navigable
space, and they provide a context in which it is "natural" to observe several
other people. Additionally, the interaction between the people and objects in the virtual
space is easily understood and controlled.
One example of a multi-user virtual reality system is DIVE [Carlson],
the Distributed Interactive Virtual Environment, where participants navigate in 3D space
and see, meet and interact with other users and applications. Another is the MASSIVE
[Greenhalgh] system, whose features include networking based on IP multicasting; support
for a new extended spatial model of interaction, including third parties, regions and
abstractions, support for multiple users communicating via a combination of 3D graphics,
real-time packet audio and text and an extensible Object Oriented (class-based) developers
The picture below shows an environment built with MASSIVE, where six
conference participants have gathered around a table. Embodiments with ears indicate users
with audio capability, those with "T"s embossed on their faces are running a
text-only client. The "owner" of the supine embodiment has probably left his
workstation in the real world and indicated this by lying down. (Such behaviour is unusual
in real-world meetings.)
It is expected that CSCW tools will be increasingly adopted by HEP over the coming years. The need for tools that support collaborative work at a distance is evident when considering the size of new generation HEP collaborations and their geographical spread. Some areas of HEP work appear to be particularly amenable to the use of CSCW, such as meetingware and shared applications. By using already existing CSCW toolkits that support wide area collaboration, we can envisage the construction of multi-user event displays. Such displays could be operated by physicists located around the globe, all examining and analysing the same events concurrently. On a similar theme, the use of VR techniques and equipment should allow us to create systems that enable physicists to meet around a real table, and view the events in a virtual detector that hovers above the table top. As the technology becomes more mature, flexible and commonplace, new possibilities for putting it to work for HEP will become apparent. The momentum of the industry in the direction of Web-based multi-party applications and games is going to make this sooner, rather than later!
[Brinck] Brinck,T. and Hill,R.D. (1993). "Building Shared Graphical
Editors in the Abstraction-Link-View Architecture". Proceedings of ECSCW'93 (European
Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work), Milan, Italy, Sep. 1993
[Carlson] Carlsson and Hagsand, "DIVE - A Multi User Virtual
Reality System", IEEE VRAIS, Sept, 1993
[Clauer] Clauer, C. R. et al. "A Prototype Upper Atmospheric
Research Collaboratory (UARC)," Visualization Techniques in Space and Atmospheric
Science, E. P. Szuszczewicz and J. H. Bredekamp (eds.), pp. 105-112, NASA SP-519,
Washington, D.C. 1995.
[Evard] Evard, Remy. "Collaborative Networked Communication: MUDs
as Systems Tools", Proceedings of the Seventh Systems Administration Conference (LISA
VII), pages 1-8, November 1993, Monterey, CA
[Greenhalgh] Greenhalgh, C., and Benford, S., "MASSIVE: a
Distributed Virtual Reality System Incorporating Spatial Trading," in Proc. IEEE 15th
International Conference on Distributed Computing Systems (DCS'95), Vancouver, Canada, May
30 - June 2, 1995, IEEE Computer Society.
[Johnston] Johnston, W.E. and Sachs, S. "Distributed, Collaboratory
Experiment Environments (DCEE) Program: Overview and Final Report, February 1997".
Online at http://www-itg.lbl.gov/DCEE/
[Roseman] Roseman, M. and Greenberg, S.. "Building Real Time
Groupware with GroupKit, A Groupware Toolkit". ACM Transactions on CHI, March 1996.
[XTV] "XTV - A User's Guide". (No longer) Online at http://www.visc.vt.edu/succeed/xtv.html
longer) Online at http://www.pwrhouse.com/weblines./INDEX.HTM
[Woolley] Woolley, David R.. "Conferencing on the World Wide Web". Online at http://freenet.msp.mn.us/people/drwool/webconf.html
[Zaluzec] Zaluzec, Nestor J.. "Tele-Presence Microscopy & the ANL LabSpace (eLab) Project". Online at http://188.8.131.52/docs/anl/tpm/tpmexecsumm.html