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A Book You Should Know About

At O'Reilly & Associates, we have a history of being ahead of the curve. In the mid-80's, we started publishing books about many of the free software programs that had been incorporated into the UNIX operating system. The books we wrote and published were an important element in the spread and use of perl, sendmail, the X Window System, and many of the programs that have now been collected under the banner of Linux.

In 1992, we published The Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog, the book that first brought the Internet into the public consciousness. In 1993, we launched GNN, the first ever Internet portal, and were the first company to sell advertising on the web.

In 1997, we convened the meeting of free software developers that led to the widespread adoption of the term Open Source software. All of a sudden, the world realized that some of the most important innovations in the computer industry hadn't come from big companies, but rather from a loose confederation of independent developers sharing their code over the Internet.

In each case, we've managed to expose the discrepancy between what the industry press and pundits were telling us and what the real programmers, administrators and power users who make up the leading edge of the industry were actually doing. And in each case, once we blew the whistle, the mainstream wasn't far behind.

I like to think that O'Reilly & Associates has functioned as something like the Paul Revere of the Internet revolution.

I tell you these things not to brag, but to make sure you take me seriously when I tell you that I've got another big fish on the line.

Every once in a while a book comes along that makes me wake up and say "Wow!" Jon Udell's Practical Internet Groupware is such a book.

There are several things that go into making this such a remarkable book.

First, there is the explicit subject: how to build tools for collaborative knowledge management. As we get over the first flush of excitement about the Internet, we want it to work better for us. We're overwhelmed by email, our web searches baffle us by returning tens of thousands of documents and only rarely the ones we want, and our hard disks bulge with documents that we've saved but don't know how to share with other people who might need them.

Jon's book provides practical guidance on how to solve some of these problems by using the overlooked features in modern web browsers that allow us to integrate web pages with the more chaotic flow of conversation that goes on in email and conferencing applications. While much of the book is aimed at developers, virtually anyone who uses the Internet in a business setting can benefit from the perspectives Jon provides in his opening chapters.

How to build effective applications for conferencing and other forms of internet-enabled collaboration is one of the most important questions developers are wrestling with today. Anyone who wants to build an effective intranet, or to better manage their company's interactions with customers, or to build new kinds of applications that bring people together, will never think about these things in the same way after reading this book.

Second, more than anyone else I know, Jon has thrown off the shackles of the desktop computing paradigm that has shaped our thinking for the better part of the last two decades. He works in a world in which the net, rather than any particular operating system, is truly the application development platform.

All too often, people wear their technology affiliations on their sleeve (or perhaps on their t-shirts), much as people did with chariot racing in ancient Rome. Whether you use NT or Linux, whether you program in Perl or Java or Visual Basic, are marks of difference and the basis for suspicion. Jon stands above this fragmented world like a giant. He has only one software religion: what works. He moves freely between Windows and Linux, Netscape and Internet Explorer, Perl, Java and JavaScript, and ties it all together with the understanding that it is the shared internet protocols that matter.

Any developer worth his salary in tomorrow's market is going to need a cross-platform toolbox much like the one Jon applies in this book.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, Jon has laid his finger on the most important change in the computer industry since the introduction of the web.

Especially in the later chapters of the book, he lays out a vision in which web sites themselves can be considered as reusable software components. The implications of this paradigm shift are truly astonishing. I confidently predict that in the years ahead, the methodologies Jon demonstrates in this book will be the foundation of multi-billion dollar businesses and whole new schools of software development.

As Bob Dylan said, "There's something happening here, and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?" Well, Jon Udell does know, and if you'd like to know as well, I can't suggest a better place to start.

Practical Internet Groupware won't be available in print for another two months, but because it is such an important book, I've decided to put a special sneak preview of it up on our website, in a kind of high-tech serial.

--Tim

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