Team Brews Hot Program

Java-based intranet budding brainchild of CNU professors

David Doughty had it all planned out.

In late 1995, the Christopher Newport University physics professor was about to present a slide show to fellow professors in Berkeley, Calif.

Doughty had arranged for 10 British physicists to follow the presentation. He sent his slides to England and set up a conference call with them so they could hear what he was saying.

But the slides never made it. And without them, the presentation quickly became too difficult for the British to follow.

"They listened for five minutes and then just gave up," Doughty said. "I was very sour about it. That shouldn't have happened in this day and age."

The mishap, however, inspired Doughty and another CNU professor, David Heddle, to found JDH Technologies, a fledgling Oyster Point software company on Canon Boulevard.

Two years ago, Heddle and Doughty believed there had to be a better way to send slides to England than via airplane. They knew of one possibility: using "groupware," or "collaboration software," to set up mini-networks.

Collaboration software is useful because it allows graphics to be accessed "live" by many different people at once. If Doughty had used collaboration software at the Berkeley lecture, for example, he could have highlighted parts of his slides with his mouse and those at computer terminals in England would have seen it.

The catch: Though it's cheap to send e-mail and graphics via the Internet, collaboration software is expensive.

"There was a big gap between the e-mail and the groupware's cost," said Robert Hodson, a CNU professor and also the company's senior software scientist.

JDH says it has changed all that. Using Java, a relatively new language created by Sun Microsystems, JDH wrote collaboration program that it says is easy to run.

In early 1996, Heddle and Doughty team-taught a class - one of the first in its kind in the country, they say - on Java. They and their students developed what Heddle calls a ``crude prototype'' of a chat system using Java.

Then, over 1996 and 1997, they gradually developed a collaboration program.

Because a Java program can be read by all machines, it takes less expertise, and less expense to set up a network. For example, JDH's collaboration software, unlike many others, can be downloaded from its Internet site - www. jdtech.com - onto an individual computer, rather than having to be installed at each machine using disks.

By mid-1997, JDH's software was ready. The company's software allows small groups, such as schools and businesses, to form their own private "online communities" - something that in the past only large businesses could generally afford to do.

Those within each community can chat, e-mail one another, post messages on internal bulletin boards, create pages on an "internal web" and, yes, even hold interactive slide shows.

The program also allows simultaneous and coordinated use of the Internet. For example, a schoolteacher leading a classroom of 30 computer-using students through the White House's Web site, for example, could control the tour instead of having students go off in 30 different directions.

Costs vary depending on the number of workers. A client with 25 users, for example, costs $1,125, or $45 a client. The rate goes down to $35 a client for 100 users, $25 for 500, and so on down the line.

"If you have a company of 12 people, for just over $1,000, you can give every one of your employees access to this tool," Doughty said. "It's great for communication within the business, for going overseas, for pulling demonstrations and sending back and forth."

So far, the company has sold a system to Christopher Newport University, Thomas Nelson Community College and a private company. They are looking to grow rapidly. Right now, JDH's goal is to sell indirectly, through Internet service providers, rather than directly through customers.

To expand the business, the company will be making pitches for either venture capital or equity investment to raise money: they need to hire a small sales staff and a secretary, as well as invest in the software.

"Our goal is to build this up to be a reasonably sized software firm on the Virginia Peninsula within the next few years," Doughty says, with unchecked enthusiasm. "We think this can become a `killer-application' for the collaborative software industry."

Working nights, weekends, summers and between classes, Doughty and Heddle soon were joined by three others: a fellow CNU professor, computer scientist Robert F. Hodson; Chip Watson, a nuclear physicist at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility; and Larry Dennis, a professor at Florida State University.

Being professors usually gives them the flexibility needed to operate the business. During the recent holiday break, Hodson, Heddle and Doughty say they were at the office almost every day. None is ready to give up teaching - at least not yet.

"We published papers related to the new technology and some of the things the technology can do," Hodson said. "It plays nicely with some of the things that are going on in school."

And the teaching gives them the inside scoop on the best students

"We have the ready access of students to pull into this company and we'd love to be able to do that," Hodson said. "We know the best Java student, or two, or three."