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Practical Internet Groupware by Jon Udell

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Next-Generation Internet Groupware

The future of Internet groupware is up for grabs. No matter which way the wind blows, it’s clear that web-based applications will play a central role. But I’m not betting that web mail and conferencing will supplant the existing forms of Internet messaging, at least not anytime soon. We live and breathe email, and I don’t know anybody who prefers an HTML (or Java) mailreader to a native-GUI mailreader.

Oddly, although most people prefer today’s “fat” messaging clients to “thin” HTML alternatives, few have really begun to exploit the capabilities of their fat-client tools. Here are some of the missed opportunities:

Secure mail

The Microsoft and Netscape mailreaders have long supported end-to-end encryption of messages using S/MIME. When was the last time you exchanged encrypted email with someone? It’s an odd thing, but people who fret about the strength of the encryption that protects their online credit-card orders think nothing of sending reams of confidential information all around the Internet in the form of cleartext SMTP messages.

Why hasn’t S/MIME taken off? Mainly because most people haven’t found it worthwhile to acquire the client certificates (digital IDs) that enable this feature, despite the fact that such certificates are inexpensive (http://www.verisign.com/) or free (http://www.thawte.com/).

Digital signatures

The Microsoft and Netscape mailreaders have also long supported digital signatures. A recent spate of email-borne worms and ...

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