If you’re a CIO who’s tired of faxing your graphs, charts, and diagrams between locations during teleconferences, but can’t quite justify the expense of an electronic whiteboard, check out eBeam.

The eBeam attaches to a regular whiteboard and transmits the content to your computer. It ships with software that allows you to save meeting notes and brainstorm sessions in a number of formats, including HTML, GIF and PDF.

You can also upload the whiteboard’s contents to the Internet, allowing remote users to simply open a browser, download a Java application, sign in, and see what you’re writing as you write it.

But here’s the best part: It sells for under $600.

The eBeam, produced by Electronics For Imaging, Inc., provides a portable, affordable alternative to monitors and electronic whiteboards. The eBeam allows you to:

  • Network with other users.
  • Edit your pages with drawing and page tools.
  • Review and annotate meetings.
  • Print and save pages in multiple formats.
  • Go online in real time.

Who uses it?
While those in the technical or training field are especially excited about the eBeam, anyone who uses visual data and needs to share or archive it will find it useful, said Jody Forehand, a product manager with EFI.

“The types of users tend to be divided by which benefit is most important for them,” Forehand said. “So for some folks, what they really want is just something to capture what’s been drawn on the board so they’ve got a record of it and they can print it out.

“Other folks are much more excited about the ability to transmit what’s being drawn on the board over the Web in real time so people can conference in and see what’s going on the board.”

It really is easy to use
The eBeam is easy to set up. Two sensor pods attach to your whiteboard using suction cups. A serial cable connects the pods to your computer. (I was especially pleased with the cable’s abundant length.) A power supply connects to the serial cable. It also includes four marker sleeves, each labeled either green, black, red, or blue. Be careful to place the proper marker color in the corresponding sleeve. A special eraser is also included.

The software package is easy to use, and the instruction booklet is efficient and thorough.

Here is what your desktop looks like when the software is running:

Operating the software is simple and intuitive. You can highlight, make notes, zoom closer, and copy pages. Plus, you can save your pages in a number of formats, including HTML, PDF, GIF, JPEG and TIF.

Before meetings, you will need to calibrate the software—a simple process that involves touching the whiteboard with a marker to relay the dimensions. You are restricted to a maximum space of eight-feet by four-feet.

A few complaints
Though eBeam is extremely easy to set up, keeping it up is another issue. The two sensor pods connect to the whiteboard with suction cups. And let’s face it, suction cups can, well, suck. Forehand recommended lightly wetting the suction cups before placing the pods up, but they still fell—though not as quickly.

However, it does not cause any information loss if the pods do fall; simply reattach them and, if necessary, recalibrate the page. Fortunately, eBeam is now shipping with a new type of suction cups, according to Forehand.

Another problem: You’ll have to visit e-Beam’s Web site to download both updates if you want the program to work correctly. Version 1.1 is scheduled to ship with eBeam in April or May and will roll up both patches. It will also include expanded features, such as more zoom options. Those who already own the product will be able to download it for free from e-Beam.com.

Also, don’t expect to go straight from the whiteboard to professional-quality publishing. The image generated by the eBeam is readable, but jagged.

Coming soon…
Forehand said the new release will ship with eBeam mouse software and a pen sleeve, which converts a pen into a portable mouse for use during presentations. This will be available free to current eBeam owners.

Forehand said EFI is testing handwriting-recognition software and hopes to add that feature in the near future.

EFI is also preparing to release server software for enterprises that wish to host large, multiple conferences without concerns about security.
We’re curious: How do you rate the various presentation gadgets and software that are currently available? Let us know your cheers and jeers for presentation products by e-mailing us or posting a comment below.