Thursday 28th June, 2001
For larger companies, or for companies that aren’t solely Mac-based, the problem of providing users with shared diaries has been a frustrating one. Up until now there have been just two solutions to cross-platform scheduling: write a proprietary system or use MeetingMaker. This may be about to change as Microsoft has finally decided to release a beta of an improved Mac client to the Outlook server, which, since it only runs on Windows servers, is only for cross-platform networks. So this release of MeetingMaker may be its last show to a ‘captive’ Mac audience.
MeetingMaker is a highly scalable IP-based ‘collaborative’ client-server system, providing a shared diary, a contact manager, a to-do list, real-time messaging and what is termed ‘email integration’ with POP-compliant email clients.
On the plus side, highly scalable is an understatement. The MeetingMaker server will run on Mac, PC or Unix, while there are software clients available for Mac OS, multiple flavours of Windows, Unix and Java, as well as synchronisation tools for Palm users. However, this doesn’t compensate for its high price and poor interface.
As with any client-server system, getting MeetingMaker up and running is a two-part process. Install the server software on one machine, and then the client software on the rest. MeetingMaker, the company, is intent on ensuring registration. Having installed and entered the serial numbers for your server software, you have 30 days to register with the company (by email - at least the version 6 insistence on sending a fax has been dropped) before your serialised but unregistered software times out.
The default installation is straightforward, but for anyone installing a system with more than one serial number or more than one hub (the method by which you connect multiple servers together for very large organisations), woe betide you if you fail to scrutinise the manual closely.
The server itself is a two-parter: the server application and the administration application. The latter can be run from any machine, as in order to access a particular server you need to enter its IP address. This is an IP-based network service so your Macs need to have IP addresses allocated - either manually, or via a DHCP server - in order to access the server. The server boasts a number of new features: Mac OS X compatibility, integration to industry standard network directory services (LDAP), enhanced SSL security, broadcast messaging (part of the new messaging system) and, for those who crave it, a command line API.
Meet your match
Having installed the software, you’re free to create as many human users as your registration number allows. In addition, you can also create an equivalent number of resources - equipment or locations - that can be booked for meetings. So if you have 20 rooms and 10 users, you need a 20-user licence. You can assign a proxy - another user who is allowed to manage the calendar for someone else - to both users and resources.
Once you’ve set them up, users on your server are free to log in using their client software. To book a meeting, you start by creating a proposal - pick a time, a list of suspects and a location. Having specified a time, the available list of users and resources displays their availability in real time, so you can fiddle with the times to ensure the best chance of getting the people you really need. You then send your proposal to other users, which they can manually accept, or be accepted on their behalf using first-come, first-served automated acceptance, especially useful when booking resources such as rooms.
The client software is where MeetingMaker boasts it has made the most improvements. As well as having a working hours setup for each user, clients now have their own time zones. So if you’re on the move, you can set the time zone for the country you’re in, making it easier to book conference calls at times that suit both parties.
With a little bit of setup fiddling, the client software can now notify you of new meetings automatically via email, pager service or SMS. The client also now includes a to-do list and contact manager, which syncs field for field with Palm OS, and a realtime messaging/chat facility, so users can send each other short messages across an intranet.
You can now print in colour and create an email from a contact name in your email application. As a nod to the Webheads, you can also publish your calendar to static HTML, so people outside your organisation can see what you’re doing.
This new version is as lacklustre as its predecessor. Despite boasting a ‘new look and feel’, the interface is still a history lesson in how applications worked under System 6.
MeetingMaker seems to be resting on the laurels of scalability and its status as the only Mac-only solution. Users are used to the multi-pane approach of Palm Desktop (free) and Microsoft Entourage, and unless MeetingMaker gets to grips with the idiosyncrasies and window overload of the current interface, it’ll be vulnerable to Mac OS X-based (read Unix) applications, which may be along sooner than it thinks.
|Get Further Info|
|Pros||Functional + Cross-platform + Scalable|
|Cons||Expensive + Calender views are limited + Unintuitive interface|
|Originally Published||MacUser, Volume: 17, Issue: 12, p30|