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3/13/2007
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Startup Qwaq Creates A Second Life For Businesses

The customizability of Qwaq's virtual worlds could be a major draw for companies, with the 'virtual workspace,' a three-dimensional office building, as the core element of Qwaq Forums.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. But Qwaq, a startup emerging from stealth mode today, is a new breed: It's introducing a self-proclaimed "mashup of Second Life and WebEx" called Qwaq Forums as its first product.

Companies like Cisco Systems, Reuters, Toyota, and Wells Fargo have begun participating in the virtual world of Second Life, while Sony and Disney have rolled out their own virtual worlds. But most of these have been focused on communication, marketing, or exploring a pre-made world, not on secure, real-time collaboration and application sharing.

Not so with Qwaq Forums, which is aimed squarely at the working world. The customizability of Qwaq's virtual worlds could be a major draw for companies, with the "virtual workspace," a three-dimensional office building, as the core element of Qwaq Forums. Users can customize its look and feel, add whole new rooms on the fly, and create virtual offices that can be controlled and administered by one employee or designed for only one topic. That gives workers from different sides of the globe a chance to work in the same office, communicating by voice and instant message.

But it's what will be inside the building that counts. Chalkboards lining the walls of the virtual offices act as customizable application-sharing environments. Just about any imaginable application can be shared there in real-time, from productivity tools and browsers to corporate apps, asset management tools, and word processors, including a built-in text editor. Most are shared via application servers. The Qwaq software itself can either be hosted or on-premise.

Still, bugs need fixing and questions need answers if Qwaq is to be successful. The system crashed twice during a demonstration yesterday and took five minutes to reload each time. The first version of the software will have limited capability to work with mobile devices. Those appear to be easily patched kinks, but perhaps the biggest challenge will be actually getting employees out of their e-mail dominated worlds and into the virtual one; many companies in Second Life have found it a silent world thus far.

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