Back to the future with the whiteboard

Feel caught between a rock and hard place when it comes to managing remote workers? The rock is the expense of flying in remote staff members for meetings. The hard place is the awkward alternative of trying to conduct virtual meetings via telephone, computers and electronic whiteboards.

Mimio, from Virtual Ink Corp., makes the hard place a little softer. This small, inexpensive device bridges standard whiteboards and computers. This novel product, which is easily transported and quickly installed, continuously converts whiteboard writing into digital files. The most obvious benefit is eliminating the need for people to take notes because whiteboard displays can be saved or printed on demand.

However, that's really just a small part of what mimio offers agencies. For example, with the latest mimio 1.1 software, anyone with Microsoft Corp. NetMeeting software can join a mimio whiteboard session and collaborate remotely. By taking advantage of the distance-teamwork tools and other new features, mimio is certain to increase the productivity and creativity of employees.

We attached the 2.5-pound mimio capture bar to our whiteboard in less than a minute. The lever-mounted suction cups firmly held mimio. (They can attach either horizontally or vertically, depending on the dimensions of the whiteboard.) We connected the bar to our computer with a serial cable (a $49 plug-and-play Universal Serial Bus adapter also is available). Lastly, we placed dry-erase mar-kers in color-coded electronic sleeves; these enabled mimio software to track the markers and recognize what we wrote. There was no need to calibrate the unit; once we launched the mimio software, anything we wrote on the physical whiteboard immediately appeared on the soft---ware's virtual whiteboard workspace.

Out of the box, mimio software offered abundant features, ranging from changing the color and width of marker lines to saving writing as vector-based files that could be scaled and printed without any quality loss.

To host remote meetings, we simply opened NetMeeting. Almost right away, our mimio whiteboard appeared in the NetMeeting workspace of remote users; therefore, agency IT managers won't have to worry about configuring additional software for end users. Similarly, we could see annotations that far-off team members made to their NetMeeting whiteboards.

We also tested new software plug-ins and hardware accessories that demonstrated mimio's flexible design.

MimioMouse 2.0 (a free download) is a must if you use a video projector to give software demonstrations. Put simply, this feature turns your whiteboard into a versatile touch screen. For example, we started by projecting a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation onto the whiteboard. MimioMouse let us control the presentation from the whiteboard, highlight specific areas on slides, draw on the whiteboard next to the slide and save the annotated image.

If your agency uses RealNetworks Inc.'s RealSystem G2 streaming media servers for one-to-many presentations or distance learning, you should consider the $249 mimio boardCast package. We easily configured the boardCast Producer software to take handwriting (from the whiteboard) and audio files, convert them into Real format, and then generate a Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language file that delivered the live stream. This same process also works well when archiving your multimedia whiteboard presentations for on-demand streaming playback at a later time.

Likewise, we were pleased that Virtual Ink delivered a much-requested feature: handwriting recognition. This $69 plug-in, which requires no training, took cursive and printed words from our whiteboard and automatically transferred the text into a Word document.

All in all, mimio is an extremely versatile system that delivers a lot of efficiency and cost savings in its basic configuration. Reasonably priced enhance- ments further improve mimio's value to government agencies.

Heck is an InfoWorld contributing editor and manager of electronic promotions at Unisys Corp. in Blue Bell, Pa.

REPORT CARD

Mimio 1.1

Score: A-

Virtual Ink Corp.
(888) 284-4091
www.mimio.com/government

Price and availability: Mimio costs $499 (basic configuration) and can be bought on governmentInternational Merchant Purchase Authorization Cards through resellers ComputerWare,CDW-G Inc. and GTSI Corp.

Remarks: Mimio is an inexpensive device that, within a few minutes, can turnalmost any standard whiteboard into a digital canvas. Recent mimio updatesand options include handwriting recognition, touch- sensitive screens fordata projectors and the capability to stream presentations through RealNetworks'G2 servers.

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