20 Years of BSCW, the Groupware Developed at Fraunhofer FIT

Basic Support for Cooperative Work

© OrbiTeam Software GmbH & Co. KG

In 1995, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, when Netscape was the browser and Altavista the search engine, Fraunhofer FIT released version 1.0 of BSCW, the fully web-based groupware system. In 2015, Fraunhofer FIT, OrbiTeam Software and over a hundred guests came together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of BSCW.

In 1994, Fraunhofer FIT developed the first prototype of a groupware system intended to let its users define teams and jointly manage documents in a virtual team room quickly and easily. At the time, none of the researchers involved had any idea that this would be the start not only of a successful product, but of a whole new class of web applications.

In 1995, the first public BSCW server went online, which – upgraded regularly – can still be used free of charge. Being the first fully web-based groupware system, BSCW was awarded the European Software Innovation Prize in 1996. As the number of users grew rapidly, we founded a spin-off company, OrbiTeam Software GmbH & Co KG, in 1998. OrbiTeam has since been marketing BSCW very successfully and also contributes significantly to its ongoing development.

The version history of BSCW reflects the evolution of the Web and of groupware systems to the present day. In the first few years, enhancements focused on access rights, role definitions and functionality like calendars, to make BSCW fit for commercial use.

In the early years of the new millennium, the Web evolved from information medium to social communication medium, as FIT had predicted in our Social Web research program in 2001. In line with this trend, the recent versions of BSCW show how Social Media functionality like blogs, activity streams or wikis can extend groupware systems to let teams and organizations collaborate flexibly in networks.

Today, its rich functionality and its flexible API make BSCW the platform of choice for a wide range of enhancements, e.g. the EnArgus information system on energy research. BSCW also serves as the management and development platform for a plethora of national and international research projects. With an installed base of far beyond 1,000 servers in industry and academia, BSCW will continue to be a platform for cooperation in particular of small and medium enterprises and help them meet the challenges of digitization. 

Test BSCW free of charge

The software developed within the project, i.e., the BSCW shared workspace server – an extension to a normal WWW server – and other tools, e.g., for transfering files from a local file system to a BSCW server, is publicly available for download for a trial period of 90 days. Licenses for the BSCW server software are available from FIT's spin-off company OrbiTeam Software GmbH & Co. KG. Furthermore, FIT runs a public BSCW server at bscw.fit.fraunhofer.de where everyone is invited to establish their own workspaces and use them for collaboration with friends and colleagues.