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In a previous TechRepublic blog, we examined the latest features of the CrossLoop beta version. That free collaboration software application allowed two computers to collaborate and share encrypted information over the Internet. That application was very easy to configure and use and is one of our favorite free tools here in the TechRepublic offices.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft Windows Vista includes a similar collaborative application called the Windows Meeting Space. This application comes with the operating system at no additional cost and can connect up to 10 users at a time in a collaborative environment. The key difference between CrossLoop and Windows Meeting Space is that the parties connecting in Meeting Space have to be on the same network. The ability to connect does not extend beyond the local network to include the Internet. The other significant restriction is that Windows Meeting Space requires that all of the connected devices must be using Windows Vista.

The first time

Windows Meeting Space is located with many of the other Vista applets and applications. The easiest, and probably the best, way to start the application is by typing the key words into the Vista desktop search box on the Start Menu. (Figure A)

Figure A

Windows Meeting Space start

The first time you start Windows Meeting Space, Vista will remind you that you are poking holes in your firewall to allow this traffic and then ask for confirmation. (Figure B)

Figure B

Asking for permission

Next, you will be asked to set up the People Near Me service, which identifies people on the network who are using computers and broadcasting their potential willingness to participate in a Windows Meeting Space session. (Figure C)

Figure C

People Near Me service

Once the configuration is complete, you get the main screen for Windows Meeting Space. (Figure D) If there were an open meeting, we would see it displayed on this screen. You can also start your own meeting from here.

Figure D

Start a meeting or join one in progress

Clicking the Start a new meeting link gives you a default meeting name and asks if you would like to create a password for your meeting session. Click the arrow button to start the meeting. (Figure E)

Figure E

Start the meeting

The Windows Meeting Space screen changes (Figure F) to indicate that you have established an active meeting. From this screen, you can invite people to join, pass out handouts, or share your desktop. All we need now are some participants.

Figure F

Let’s meet

Clicking the Invite people link gives me a screen where I can pick out people on the network I would like to join me in my meeting. In this case (Figure G), there is only one meeting candidate, MarkKaelin2.

Figure G

Sending an invitation

On the other end, MarkKaelin2 can see the initial meeting (Figure H) even before we send him an invitation and could join of his own volition if he wanted.

Figure H

Seeing what meetings are available

After joining our meeting, MarkKaelin2 sees the screen shown in Figure I. The icon with the arrow next to it means that he is also in control.

Figure I

MarkKaelin2 is in control

MarkKaelin2 is now sharing a session of the Paint application (Figure J) with the Mark W. Kaelin (my laptop).

Figure J

Sharing Paint

On the other end, my laptop is now seeing the Paint application running on MarkKaelin2. (Figure K)

Figure K

I see Paint

Final thoughts

Windows Meeting Space is a nifty little program that comes with Windows Vista. The collaborative application is straightforward to set up and configure and has many of the features we have become so familiar with from using other collaborative solutions. But while Windows Meeting Space works as advertised, it has at least one major drawback — it works only with Windows Vista, which means you can collaborate using this application only with other Vista devices. The entire Windows XP, Linux, and Mac OS universe is beyond your reach. Perhaps in three years that won’t be such a big deal, but it is pretty much a deal-breaker now. There are other just as capable solutions out there that are more inclusive in the operating systems they support. Collaboration is not, and does not have to be, dependent on which operating system you are using.