Tools for dynamic online collaboration

Author

Mattheos Protopapas

Keywords

collaboration, online, application sharing, VOIP, desktop sharing

Review Status

General review by COMISEF Wiki Admin, 3/11/2008

Overview

This is a brief review of various applications for dynamic desktop sharing and project collaboration.

Introduction

The applications reviewed give to two or more users the ability to work together on projects via the Internet or a Local Network. The main feature for all of these tools is that they provide "desktop sharing". Any of the users in a session can see the others' computer screen as if they were sitting next to them. And if the "desktop owner" allows them, they can even input into the owner's computer, using their mouse or keyboard. Some tools also provide "application sharing", where the host of the session can decide which applications the guest is allowed to view/edit and VOIP communication. (When this is not available another VOIP tool can be used at the same time).

Typically, Windows XP provide the same functionality via "remote help". A user can introduce another user of windows to view his screen and have control of his computer. So a remote collaboration can be achieved this way. The disadvantages are that :

1) Both users must use Windows
2) You cannot change between the desktops during a single session

Vista provides the ability for remote collaboration of more than two people (via net meeting I think), but all the users must run vista (and the host vista professional).

How It Works

One of the users hosts a session and then invites the other users to join. Then the desktop of the host is visible to the other users. The host can also switch to another user's screen (if the other allows it of course). The "owner" of the screen that is currently visible to the session can also allow specific users to have control on his computer (control the mouse and input via their keyboards for example). Of course he can also stop sharing control at any time.

Application Review

VNC system
There are many open source applications of the "VNC" type such as realVNC, tightVNC, etc. that allow desktop sharing between two or more users and remote desktop connections. Being open source software, they evolve quite rapidly, and new features are added all the time. Most of them allow for interoperability between users on different OS's (windows, mac, linux), and multiple connections. So, "viewer" sessions (e.g. desktop broadcasting on the local network), or sessions with no control on the local computer for some users, while at the same time some other users might have control etc. are possible.

Mikogo
A very simple and effective utility is Mikogo. After you sign up and download the client, you can start a session and invite as many as 10 people (via mail or by sending them the session ID). After launching, Mikogo remains minimized on the system tray, and you just have to right click the icon to do the things you want (start a new meeting, change presenters etc.). It features a nice annotation toolbar to annotate the contents of the session window (a mouse-pen works nice with that) and a whiteboard. Meetings can be recorded, to play them back later.

Yugma
The free version allows for two people to connect and share their desktops and applications. There are whiteboard and annotation tools as well.
Its installation is somewhat cumbersome, and there are some limitations in the free version (I think there is no meeting recording feature there).

Elluminate V-Room
This is more complex than the previous ones and is suitable for formally structured sessions. It allows for 3 people to connect and has many features such as whiteboard, video-chat, the ability to "raise hand" and ask for permission to talk/write from the presenter etc. making things more formally organized. There are many more features (and more people can join the session) if you pay a subscription.

And a word from the future…
Linden Labs (the guys from "Second Life") and Rivers Run Red, created "immerse workspaces", which integrates desktop and media sharing applications in a "second life" environment, creating a "matrix" experience for online collaboration. You can check out the promo here.

Internal Links

Concepts
Tutorials
Tips
Related Articles

External links

References
Weblinks
Click on the links below to get to the home page of the respective applications:
Elluminate V-Room
Yugma
Mikogo

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