The fast track to interactive conferencing

Interactive conferencing lets users from around the globe converse. Today, hundreds of conference servers and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) servers make Internet chat rooms hotter than ever.

Running a conference site is not difficult, because software and administration manuals are at your fingertips. One software and administration manual combination, Building Your Own Web Conferences, by Susan B. Peck and Beverly Murray Scherf, (O'Reilly & Associates, 1997), is a complete book and CD-ROM solution for Windows NT and Windows 95 Web masters who want to host online conferences. The kit includes O'Reilly's WebBoard 2.0 Web conferencing software. This software solution lets Web masters host both message-based conferences and online chat sessions via Web pages.

WebBoard lets Web masters create conference areas (similar to usenet newsgroups) and interactive chat rooms (like IRC chat areas). Four conferences are available: public conferences, which let anyone read and post messages; moderated conferences, which let anyone read postings, but a moderator must approve all postings; private conferences, which limit read and post privileges to selected people; and read-only conferences, which let everyone read the messages in the conference, but only the systems administrator, moderator, or conference manager can post messages.

Creating conferences is simple. When you log on as the administrator, the software's wizards help you create your conferences. Within each conference you can create a chat area for people to interactively communicate. A small JavaScript program permits this interactive communication. When a user enters the chat area, the program downloads to the user's computer.

WebBoard's initial installation works with Internet Information Server (IIS) or any Common Gateway Interface (CGI)- or Internet Server API (ISAPI)-compliant Web server, such as Netscape's FastTrack Server or Purveyor WebServer from Process Software. The WebBoard package includes its Web server, in case you install the package on a Win95 host or on an NT host without a Web server. However, the software prefers the O'Reilly Web server, because it supports HTML file attachments and is compact and efficient.

To install the software, I ran setup.exe off the distribution CD-ROM. The first question you must answer concerns the Web server. You must select either the O'Reilly Web server or an existing Web server. If you already have an existing Web site, you still might install the O'Reilly Web server but have it monitor an IP port other than 80 (the default HTTP port). You can use the O'Reilly Web server and all its features to host your Web conferences, yet still maintain your existing site. I installed the package into my IIS environment.

After you select Web servers, the install program prompts you for your server's name, the name of your mail server (new users automatically get email when they sign on to your Web conference site), and some information about the WebBoard administrator. The program uses this information to create an administrative account so you can administer your Web conferences with the WebBoard software.

After you install the software, you need to connect to your WebBoard site from a client computer to set up your conferences. To complete this setup, I logged on as the administrative user and ran the Create Conference wizard. Screen 1 shows a typical conference screen. I had this conference running in 5 minutes, including the time I took to install the software. WebBoard's wizards let you add new conferences.

To use the WebBoard software, your customers must connect to a URL. For example, on a stock IIS installation (such as my server), WebBoard installs itself into a virtual directory that you can access by connecting to http:///WebBoard/webboard.dll. To access the software, your customers point their Web browsers to this address. After they connect, they must provide a logon name and password. New users can log on by providing basic user information and selecting a user ID and password.

WebBoard is an excellent product. You get a copy of the manual and the WebBoard software capable of hosting two virtual boards and 10 conferences per board. I highly recommend this software package for any small to midsized company looking to establish a Web presence with interactive conferencing capabilities.

WebBoard 2.0
Contact: O'Reilly Software * 707-829-0515
Web: http://software.ora.com
Price: $59.95
System Requirements: 486 or higher system running Windows NT 3.51or 4.0 or Windows 95, 5MB of hard disk space