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Developers from universities around the nation are using collaborative software to help create a national science digital library.
A portal site powered by SourceForge, collaborative software from VA Software Corp., formerly VA Linux, lets developers review and comment on project changes submitted by colleagues. Developers from Columbia University, Cornell University, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, the University of California at San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst are involved in the National Science Foundation's project. The digital library will be available to the public by Dec. 1.
Cornell, which purchased SourceForge last year, customized the software to keep track of bugs throughout the development process of the project and added authorization to the registration feature to control access to various levels of the site. Before buying a prepackaged version of SourceForge, Cornell tried to download the open-source version from SourceForge.net, VA Software's open-source application service provider. "The open-source version is not in the form of a coherent, clean, installable version," says Dean Krafft, senior research associate at Cornell and co-principal investigator of the National Science Foundation grant for the digital library. "It's a lot of work to fit the pieces together. Even with their expertise and improved code over the original open source, it still took VA Software several weeks to complete the installation."
Now that Cornell has had the software installed for a few months, Krafft says, "It's helped to make sure we're exchanging information in a timely way and making it so everyone can see what everyone else is doing and comment on it." Before using SourceForge, the developers relied on E-mail and discussion boards to exchange information about projects, but those methods didn't provide a good view of the state of a project and didn't show the thread of development, Krafft says. The addition of an instant-messaging feature would make SourceForge more useful, Krafft adds. To compensate for the lack of this feature in the software, Krafft says he and some of his colleagues use AOL Instant Messenger to discuss project changes. SourceForge pricing starts at $700 per seat, per year, for 30 users.
Without an instant-messaging feature, communicating via collaborative software is akin to throwing your work over a wall, says Kathy Quirk, Hurwitz Group senior analyst. "You can't always have the right people at the right time in the same room," so collaborative software has to be able to simulate a shared working environment, Quirk says. She adds that VA Software's closest competitor, CollabNet Inc., has more penetration into the enterprise area, and its software has richer feature sets.