The Netscape and Microsoft mail/news clients aren’t as flexible or programmable as their counterpart browsers, and that’s a problem for groupware developers who want to leverage and customize these messaging tools. But mail and news servers, like web servers, are wonderfully flexible and programmable components. The underlying protocols—SMPT, NNTP, and HTTP—are simple enough to operate manually, and are therefore well supported by scripting languages such as Perl. A script can access mail, news, or web services almost as easily as an interactive mailreader, newsreader, or browser.
In Part III, we exploited the component nature of Internet services to create hybrid groupware applications. In Chapter 9, for example, we built a reviewable docbase system that joins an XML docbase to an NNTP newsgroup; we used the NNTP API to populate the newsgroup with a discussion framework linked to the docbase; we used conventional CGI techniques to transform comments issuing from the docbase into correlated newsgroup postings. An alternative version of the reviewable docbase idea relied on email instead of a newsgroup, providing a lighter solution requiring no web or NNTP machinery.
These applications surprise some people, but really they shouldn’t. Integration of web technology with Internet messaging doesn’t happen automatically, but thanks to the profound componentization of the core services, solutions are eminently scriptable.