This paper describes a layered framework to support WWW-based interactive and collaborative applications. Using some commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software, three basic services are built: virtual rooms, virtual file systems, and database connectivity. These services are used at a second layer, which actually provides the functionality of the framework. The components that have been described at this level can be embedded in WWW-based business applications in an easy and direct way. Therefore, programmers can focus on the particular logic of their applications, avoiding most of the issues related to collaboration, networking, and access control. In order to test the developed framework a WWW-based educational application has been implemented. This tele-education system, with innovative features in the field of WWW-based practical training, is the second contribution presented by the authors. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.