Hamachi and Unyte – Two Indispensible Virtual Office Tools

http://www.hamachi.cc/ and http://www.unyte.net/

I work at home. I almost never get to see my colleagues face to face. And when I do, I have my laptop with me, a different computer than the one I use at home. These two FREE technologies have become indispensible in helping me work with others at a distance as well as stay connected while I’m on the road.

The first, Unyte by Webdialogs, is a screen sharing app that integrates with Skype. It allows me to display any number of apps running on my machine to any of my skype contacts. The beauty is that they don’t require anything to view the shared screen, only a web browser. And it’s free.

I work with developers in Australia, designers in Vancouver, researchers in Colorado – all of whom are on my skype contact list. Now, when the need arises (“look, it really is a bug,” “no, I meant put the logo THERE”) I can share what I am looking at with them in 2 clicks. It works beautifully. There is a pay-for version which allows you to share with more than one person at a time, but if you are looking for a fast and easy way to share a screen with anyone out there, Unyte has a lot going for it. I had tried Glance in the past, and while I quite liked it, the lack of a free version turned me off.

On to the second piece (really the reason I am writing this up, so I can send this to some colleagues), Hamachi. Hamachi bills itself as “zero-configuration virtual private networking” and true to its word, the setup and configuration of the software on my desktop and laptop took about 2 minutes, after which I was able to grab any file off my desktop when I was travelling. You are not limited to just your own computers in this virtual network and can create ad hoc private networks with anyone you trust and want to share with. There are clients for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X (though the later has suffered in the past from requiring some command line tinkering, something I believe has largely been overcome).

If you’re an ubergeek you’ll probably look down your nose at this – why wouldn’t anyone simply use OpenVPN, and how about UltraVNC or TightVNC for that matter, which can largely accomplish both of these ends in one app. Well, great, if they work for you. I’ve tried all of these with varying degrees of success. What excites me about both of these apps is their absolute ease of use and their singlemindedness; they do one thing and one thing well. So if you need to be able to access yor home computer from work, or your work computer from home, or if you need to be able to quickly share something on your desktop with a remote user, I highly recommend both as additions to your virtual office tool box. – SWL

Network EducationWare – Open Source Synchronous A/V Conferencing Software


O.k., maybe I’m missing something here. This Java-based software, developed by Dr. Mark Pullen and others at George Mason University, provides synchronous audio and video conferencing capabilities, along with an annotatable whiteboard and slide upload. It also permits you record your sessions for future playback.

It’s open source.

It’s been around since 2002.

I tried out the demo and it seemed to work flawlessly. I remember when the ‘open education’ group initially met all of us getting together virtually via Elluminate, and many wondering if there wasn’t some open source alternative. Apparently there was and is. You might question this kind of technology as simply replicating existing F2F classroom models, but if you or your institution already uses something like Ellumiunate, WebEx, Centra, etc, then this would seem like worth checking out.

Found via a hit from my bloglines saved search feed on a posting from the Moodle discussion boards, which in my mind continues to be *the* most vibrant open source app/community in education I’ve yet to see. – SWL

Free alternatives to Breeze?

Like Stephen, I was suitably awed by the nifty Breeze presentation on Wikis that Brian Lamb put together, and like Stephen and James, wished I too could do something similar but without the cost of Breeze. (It should be noted, however, that the niftiness of the presentation seems like it was 15% Breeze and 85% Brian’s humour and ingenuity.)

I hunted around for some free options, and didn’t come up with much. But below is a list of possibilities and pointers if you are interested in following up on this:

– OpenOffice’s presentation tool allows you to export as flash presentations; unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to do voice narration (yet)
– PowerPoint does actually allow you to do voice narration of your slides, and you may be able to export these in IE-specific formats that preserve the voice narration on the web (though I couldn’t get it to work). You could also investigate one of the many Powerpoint-to-Flash conversion tools that exist and see if any of them preserve the audio narration
– there are quite a few commercial products that offer screen capture and voice narration capabilities. One that I have used is Qarbon’s Viewletbuilder. I seem to think we got it for a couple of hundred bucks. This presentation groups such products under the heading of ‘Demo Software’ (that is, software to create software demos) and lists a bunch of others one could consider, some for as little as $80.

I’m really interested to hear Brian’s own reflections on how big a part Breeze played in this presentation. I get the sense that while one could have produced this using other software, Breeze definitely can help the process along. – SWL

ACollab – accessible, open source, multi-group, Web-based collaborative work environment


If you weren’t already impressed enough with Atutor, the accessible, open source LMS from U of Toronto’s Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, along comes the second piece in their ever-growing suite of accessible learning technologies. With shared document authoring, calendering, chat, threaded discussion and extensive group support, ACollab is WCAG 1.0, Section 508 US-compliant software that can be easily integrated with Atutor to provide a powerful open source learning environment. Caution: use of this product may actually enable learning amongst an entire class of people who are otherwise discriminated against by badly designed, inaccessible technologies. – SWL

Glance Networks – Remote desktop viewing through a web browser


There are lots of desktop sharing programs out there. I came across this one today in search of a program that would allow me to have many remote users view my desktop(and pretty well do *only* that) and not require them to have anything but a web browser, e.g. no other client software required.

There’s a tiny app to download on my end; the service runs in an ASP-model, so they give you an unique URL on their server, and then sharing you desktop is as easy as starting the program and then passing the URL to anyone you want to see it. Pretty close to real-time viewing of your desktop in your guest’s web browser. Their pricing model is not ‘bad’ ($400/year for unlimited one-to-many sessions, and they have monthly plans as well) but could maybe use some tweaking if it were to appeal to higher ed users as a potential low cost/low threshold application. – SWL  

Trillian Pro – Windows IM client that communicates with AIM, Yahoo, MSN and ICQ clients

Buried within this recent slashdot thread on MS’s move to license access to MSN Messenger users for non-MS Messenger clients came reference to this multi-protocol Windows-based IM client that was new to me (I’m a real IM newbie, if you couldn’t tell).  

Not only does it support messaging to all these various other clients, it apparently has an RSS plug-in too so you can read your feeds in it! This is probably not news to regular IM users, as apparently the free version has something like 11 million downloads to date. But having just installed 3 different IM clients last Friday, I must say I am very attracted by its potential (and thus concerned about what the MS announcement might mean for it, but that’s another story). – SWL

Simply Blown Away by Silicon Chalk Demo

Both Michelle Lamberson from UBC and Bruce Landon had raved about its potential to me before, and I take recommendations from both of them seriously, but in checking out the company website a few months back and downloading a trial version of the software, I must say I was at the time left a bit puzzled about what all the foofraw was about.

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