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Videoconferencing at UVa


Software to support desktop collaboration is currently going through rapid development cycles as features and interfaces mature. Some products have disappeared from the market as they are eclipsed by products that are newer and more mature.

When investigating products that support desktop video, two basic categories of application emerge. One is the "video phone" that is aimed primarily at home use as a replacement for long distance phone calls. The other is the "desktop collaboration package" that is intended for use by educators and business people as a suite of tools to enhance the ability of professionals to work cooperatively. Shareware video phone applications are numerous, and can be easily identified by descriptors such as "see your grandchild on your computer" and "never pay long distance rates again"

Software intended to enable desktop collaboration usually is comprised of a subset of several applications. A central application serves as a "launcher" for this suite of tools. In addition to video and audio conferencing, four basic categories of tools may be included.

 Electronic whiteboards are modeled on physical conference room whiteboards. The whiteboard appears on the screen of each conference participant. Each participant can type or draw on the board, highlight, or even load a graphic or document on the background of the whiteboard that can be annotated. Shared notebooks embody a similar concept, with the addition of the ability to have multiple pages that can be "turned"

 Application sharing allows two or more participants to interact with a software program that is running on only one machine. For example, a team leader can run Microsoft Word to edit a document that the team is co-editing. The team members establish a data conference with NetMeeting. The person who is running Word on his computer then selects the option to share a running application. A copy of the Word document, complete with the Word editing icons currently displayed on the team leader's screen appears on the other participants' screens. Any of the team members can insert or modify text in the document. The team leader has the option to stop sharing at any time. The Microsoft Word program and the document file exist only on the team leader's machine, but an interactive display is created by NetMeeting for each participant. Application sharing can also be used for spreadsheet entry, programming, development of slide shows, etc.

 File transfer (FTP) software is a tool that has been used by collaborators from the earliest days of personal computing. The interfaces that have been developed to support remote collaboration include the ability to transfer files, but the interface has been much improved over many free-standing FTP clients. While most PC users have installed an FTP client, they often do not have an FTP server running on their machine. The server is what allows the client to connect and request files. Many videoconferencing applications include both an FTP client and a server, thus eliminating the need to run a separate FTP server (with attendant security risks).

 Chat software is typically included for two purposes. One is use as an alternate communication channel in case the audio portion of the conference is unusable, either due to bandwidth problems or equipment failure. The other purpose is to provide a private channel of communication between two participants of a multi-party conference. It is usually a window that displays the text typed at another station. While a whiteboard may also be used to type messages to another station, the contents are displayed on every other participant's screen. A chat session can be limited to specific parties.

Page Updated: 2012-02-16