Sharing with others

One of the major attractions of electronic whiteboard systems is the ability to share information with people at other computers, whether they are in the same office or in a remote location.

Interlink Electronics Inc.'s FreeBeam Wireless Whiteboard offers several ways to do this.

If all participants are connected via a local-area network, the host's computer could be used as a server for sharing the meeting, but all participants must have the FreeBeam software installed on their computers.

If participants connect from remote locations, the meeting host can use the FreeBeam server, maintained by Electronics for Imaging Inc., free of charge. Participants connect via their Web browsers and do not need to have the FreeBeam software installed.

FreeBeam can also be used with Micro.soft Corp. NetMeeting. Everything written on the physical whiteboard will appear on the NetMeeting whiteboard.

Meeting sharing is an easy process that takes just a few steps to initiate. When you want to start a meeting, FreeBeam generates an e-mail invitation containing the information needed to participate, such as the meeting's name, password, date and time. As the host, you can edit this e-mail to add relevant information. FreeBeam composes the message using your existing e-mail system.

We shared a meeting via the Internet using the FreeBeam server with a participant who did not have the software installed. The participant, however, could simply click on the link contained in the invitation to join the meeting.

This method of meeting sharing is convenient and works well, but there are several limitations, which the company lists in the user manual. For example, Microsoft Internet Explorer is the recommended browser. Participants can't join a meeting using Netscape Communications Corp's browser on an Apple Computer Inc. Macintosh, because Netscape cannot run the Java applet. Also, highlighter lines are drawn with a solid pattern instead of being transparent.

There are several useful functions for managing a shared meeting. A chat function lets participants chat in real time during the meeting and a synchronize option ensures that everyone in the meeting can see everything that has been written on the whiteboard. It also "catches up" late joiners. The host can also prevent participants from modifying the meeting notes with the drawing tools. All participants can be blocked at the same time, or the host can select individual people to block. The host can also eliminate a participant from the meeting without ending it. Interestingly, the eliminated person receives a message stating simply that the meeting has ended — a diplomatic touch, perhaps.

One other feature we'd like to start seeing with electronic whiteboard products is voice over IP, especially since collaborative software from vendors such as Groove Networks Inc. is becoming widely available. Voice capability would facilitate the meeting process and round out the package nicely.

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