Professor X glares at his workstation computer screen in Michigan, abandons a struggling sentence, and begins to rough-sketch a diagram, shifting back and forth between text and graphics without leaving the system. As he sits back to consider his handiwork, the diagram’s axes flop, the labels change, and a new curve snakes up from the 0. These instantaneous changes come from Professor Y, who is refining the diagram on her own terminal, although she’s in her California of- fice and working on a computer made by a different manufacturer. Real-time conferencing, the ability to run on a variety of machines and easy toggling between text and graphics are just a few of the lures going into experimental software called UMExpres. Developers at the University of Michigan are designing it especially for trading versions of technical papers and grant proposals.

The National Science Foundation backed the project heavily. In ,1986, NSF...

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