Software lets Mozilla collaborate

While Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser tries to carve out its Internet niche, Advanced Reality has delivered a collaboration plug-in for the fledgling Web client that just might help it find a spot on corporate desktops.

The company last week released Jybe, a small piece of client code and a companion server, that together let users link their browsers to search the Internet or corporate intranet in unison. There is also a version of the client plug-in for Internet Explorer, which lets Web page collaboration take place between users regardless of their chosen browser. Jybe, which adds two buttons to the browser for creating and ending sessions, also adds an instant-messaging-like text chat capability directly into the browser.

Advanced Reality says the collaboration will work well for customer service/support, Web conferences, online demonstrations and in academic settings for creating services such as online librarians for helping users conduct Web-based research.

"It's a convenience thing, a customer service element," says Landy Haile, a sales associate with Scott Gray Commercial Real Estate in Houston. "Sure our customers can already see online photographs of properties, but we can walk them through details of the financial statements we have online." The company focuses on buying and selling apartment buildings.

Jybe works by linking browsers through its server, which runs on Windows and lets users view the same URL at the same time. When one user changes the URL, all users in the Jybe session see the new Web page. Users also can store files on the server and share those files with others during a collaborative browsing session. Advanced Reality is developing a utility that will let PowerPoint presentations be converted to HTML.

With Jybe, users don't share screens, they share only the small bit of data contained in a URL, which keeps bandwidth consumption at a minimum. But Jybe has its limitations. The sharing is read-only, which means users cannot manipulate any data on the screen, such as filling out a form. Also, there is not a control that lets one user be the leader of the browsing session.

Also, everything on each screen happens independently, so users don't see each other moving mouse pointers or scrolling through a page.

Advanced Reality plans to add some of those features in future versions.

The company also says it hopes to link the software with instant-messaging buddy lists, e-mail contact lists and corporate directories. With Jybe 1.0, users must send a request via IM, e-mail or phone to provide other users with a session name used to log on to a Jybe multiuser browser session.

"What we are doing is making the Web collaborative through the browser vs. having users share screens," says Brian Hoogendam, president of Advanced Reality. Jybe is based on Advanced Reality's Presence-AR technology, which can be added into any number of applications so users can share them. The company already offers Presence-AR adapters for Microsoft's Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and Adobe Systems's Acrobat.

Pricing for the Jybe server has not been announced, but Advanced Reality is hosting a Jybe server. The client plug-in is free and supports Internet Explorer 6.0 and, later on, Windows 2000 or above, and Firefox 1.0 on Windows, Linux or Macintosh.