Windows Meeting Space: Collaboration on the cheap!

When I began writing the Admin Guide to Office 2007 Servers with Peter, I was surprised at the direction Microsoft was taking. I am speaking about the different methods of collaboration that were being offered.

Groove Server allows users to create collaborative work spaces that maintain security. These work spaces work regardless of whether users are in your domain or even in the same time zone. Office Communications Server (OCS) offers a Unified Messaging strategy that ties into collaboration via Instant Messaging, Voice Integration and the ability to launch "Live Meeting" sessions from one client tool.

SharePoint of course is all about creating centralized web-based applications. The "sites" allow organizations to share information. Users can easily collaborate and as an added bonus, there is support for Office 2007 integration.

Any and all of these tools are great and each offers a ton of options and third party add-ons (such as Site Provisioning Assistant). What can you do when you need to collaborate and you don't have the budget or the infrastructure to support these options?

As much as we all would love to have Groove, OCS, and SharePoint, at some point we need to be realistic. A ten-person office would probably find any of these solutions to be overkill. Then, there is the secondary consideration for your road warriors. What do you do when you have several users off-site, with no means of authenticating themselves?

Believe it or not, in this 21st century, I've had users go to client sites and they were not allowed to have Internet access from the client. Moreover, this was in NYC, so it was not for lack of available Internet access. Have you ever had to give an offsite group of users a hub, LAN cables and send them off to work? I cannot count how many hours I have wasted telling users over the phone, "It is not a magic box. You will not be able to communicate with each other if you just plug it into the power. You need to plug the LAN cable into the laptop and then plug the other end into the hub ..." Have you ever experienced these calls?

Well one neat tool that I think is widely overlooked is one that comes with Windows Vista. Windows Meeting Space is a great tool for creating ad hoc collaborative sessions. One user simply creates a meeting space, names it, and gives it a password.

From this point, you can create an invitation file to share out or email the invitation. If you are in the same vicinity, you can simply look for active meetings and join them (if you have the password). Once all the users needed are in the meeting, you can share your desktop or an active program with the group.

Going back to our no-access scenario, I have actually had users create these sessions using their built-in wireless connections. Then, they can collaborate and share information back and forth (avoiding the extra steps of saving a document to a USB drive and then hoping that the last save is actually the one you want to keep).

Best of all if you have Vista, Windows Meeting Space costs nothing! Not on the same network? Doesn't matter. Not in the office? Doesn't matter. Have no Internet access, hub, or any idea of how to network anything? It doesn't matter.

Security too is not bad considering the passwords require a minimum eight characters and you can make the meeting invisible to other systems around you. While other options are great, if you cannot afford to play with the big boys and you already have Windows Vista, this can be great. Alternatively, if your users simply can't get connected to your network, but have a means of communicating back and forth, or if a user needs to collaborate at a client site and they have Vista, but none of the other tools, Windows Meeting Space is a winner.

I know people say there are a lot of reasons to hate Vista; this might make you start loving Vista. Well. Maybe just a little bit anyway. Either way it's a way to make your world A Better Windows World.

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