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Windows Vista Collaboration: A Big Step Forward, But Still An Island

Windows Collaboration, a new tool in Vista, will bring collaboration to the masses--but it's an island unto itself, rather than a bridge.

May 25, 2006

3 Min Read

Windows Vista, which just formally entered its beta 2 cycle, offers a whole host of new networking features, notably significantly better security, better deployment tools, superior mobility, built-in support for IPv6, and much-improved desktop management and troubleshooting help.

But lost in all the buzz about these new features are some excellent new collaboration tools --- although it appears that Microsoft has decided that when it comes to collaboration, Windows will be an island rather than a bridge.

Taken by itself, Windows Collaboration (also to be called Windows Meeting Space) Vista's collaboration tool, should prove to be quite useful for those who want to use live collaboration and virtual meetings. It allows for collaboration across a network, and via ad hoc peer-to-peer Wi-Fi networking when no network is present.

Across a network, meetings can be set up several different ways. An email invitation can be sent out; when the recipient accepts the invitation, he is sent into Windows Collaboration. The owner of the meeting posts a file or presentation or launches an application, copies of which are copied to the PCs of each meeting participant. He can give the presentation by himself, or turn over the presentation to someone else, who can then add, delete or edit information, which in turn is shared with everyone else in the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, a final document is saved to the PC or everyone in the meeting.

Presence features are included as well. "People Near Me" shows those are within the network and have opted in to be available for meetings, and people can be invited that way. In addition, "Meetings Near Me," similarly lists meetings that can be joined easily by others.

People have control over their privacy and presence, and can opt in to be available via "People Near Me." Similarly, meetings can be private or public.

Even when no network is present, Windows Collaboration can be used when all participants have WiFi-equipped devices. So a group of people at a cafe, for example, can have a meeting with Windows Collaboration by using the feature that automatically sets up a group ad hoc network. Again, the "People Near Me" feature is used to detect the presence of others who have opted in to have meetings. There are, however, some limitations to Windows Collaboration. It can't, for example, traverse restricted firewalls, although it can get around NAS, especially home routers that use NAS.

There is a much bigger restriction, however. There is no way for third-party collaboration or messaging tools, such as instant messenger programs or Skype to hook into Windows Collaboration. So, for example, if a group holds a meeting via Windows Collaboration, they could not use it to directly connect to Skype to use VoIP to talk with one another during the meeting, or directly use an instant messaging program during the meeting.

Clearly, Microsoft has decided Windows Collaboration will be a self-enclosed world, at least into the foreseeable future. When asked at a recent reviewer's conference whether Windows Collaboration Space would allow third-party tools to hook into it, Microsoft said there are no current plans to do that, and would only say it would add that "some time down the road."

Read that to mean, "Not unless we're forced to." So while Windows Collaboration brings collaboration to the masses in a simple easy way not before possible, it also means that for the foreseeable future at least, when it comes to collaboration, Microsoft won't be collaborating with others for quite some time.

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