Saturday, June 20, 2009

Microsoft SharedView: OMG this is Free?!!!

So this past week I was in Austin for a few days working on a special project.  It wrapped up but the work didn’t.

When we departed, plans were made to continue and as I was tasked with documentation support, it was asked if the team contributors could share my desktop (remotely) as we continued the work via conference calls from our desks across Texas.

One of my director’s peers suggested we use Microsoft’s NetMeeting product which might be useful.  It is loaded on all systems but does require each “attendee” to provide their IP address to set up the session.  We don’t have any enterprise-class commercial collaboration software solutions like Live Meeting or similar applications (at the current time…that may change soon).

We needed something cheap (free would be good), XP compatible, and require very little setup or technical use for the non-technical workgroup participants.  Plus it had to be fast and rock-solid-stable.

When I got back into H-Town I hit the webs and quickly uncovered the dirt on NetMeeting on XP.

However after playing with it on my system I just wasn’t feeling the love.  It seemed clunky, connection setup seemed awkward, and I wasn’t convinced it would really meet our needs.

Then I stumbled upon Microsoft SharedView.

The heavens opened up and the Dove of Peace descended.

Live-fire pre-deployment testing with the D-Man and Mr. No in the IT bullpens quickly confirmed it was a rocking solution.

Microsoft SharedView

Microsoft SharedView – Microsoft Connect

This is – amazingly – a free product/service offered by Microsoft.


100% free.


(Image from Free Utility: Microsoft SharedView – July 2008 Tech Net Magazine.  It’s the bar at the top that contains the SharedView controls)

The Microsoft Connect hosted SharedView web-site design absolutely sucks for such a fantastic product. Bad. It is basic and really doesn’t do the product justice.  Maybe that’s by design. (no pun intended).  Maybe Microsoft isn’t ready to showcase this product.  That’s too bad but great for us!

Microsoft SharedView is a fast, easy way to share documents and screen views with small groups of friends or coworkers; anytime, anywhere. Use SharedView to put your heads together and collaborate - create, convey, and communicate…across physical boundaries, through firewalls, and down to the smallest details.

It doesn’t support audio/video (as in web-cams for attendee shared communication). But if you can set up a phone/conference call, this is an amazing product for small workgroups, offices, and home-users.  It could also be used to perform remote-connection support in a pinch…though I still prefer the ease of ShowMyPC for one-on-one remote family support sessions.

Installation was a breeze.  Download the MSI installer from the link from either here (SharedView website big red button) or here (via Microsoft Downloads).  No post-install system-reboot needed.

Launch the application and a inconspicuous SharedView action bar appears at the top of your display. Click the “orb” and you can create a new session.  (Starting a Session - Signing in)

Follow the steps to log in with your Windows Live ID credentials (free signup if you don’t have one) and you create your session info.  You can then copy/paste or insert the info into an email to send to invitees (SharedView supports up to 15 attendees in a single session). (Starting a Session – Beginning)

Use the bar at the top to attach “handouts” to the session. These are documents on your hosting system you offer to share with session participants.  They must download these copies to their local systems as they will otherwise become unavailable once the session ends. (Using Handouts).  During our sessions I kept having to discard them and then repost them as I updated (and resaved) the changes to the primary documents.

You then define which application, document or even your entire desktop (full desktop view) you wish to display to folks.  Currently SharedView only supports the primary monitor in a multi-monitor hosting system.  Nice if you want to keep some other stuff “private” but viewable while hosting. (Sharing an Application or Desktop)

You can also temporarily hand off control to a participant so they can edit a document on your system directly.  Moving your mouse restores control back to you instantly. Nice. (Taking Control)

Attendees who are sent the email invitation get both a html link to the session along with the link, session name and password to join.  If their system doesn’t have SharedView pre-loaded the web-page launched when logging into the session will prompt the user to download/install the software. (Starting a Session – Joining)

It seems to support both Firefox and IE browsers.  Once installed IE will display the session (which may also require installation of a supporting plug-in element)

The session host is presented a “will you allow” message as each invitee checks in. (Managing and Monitoring Participation)

There are some other options like allowing each participant’s own cursor to appear on everyone’s screen views with the name. Temporary highlighting is also included.  It’s really cool. (Pointing and Highlighting)

It also has a basic “chat” feature to send messages that appear on everyone’s window. (Using Chat)

Our connections were over T1 or better network lines so it was 100% smooth with no delays or stutters. Our sessions lasted over six or more hours and not once were they disconnected or dropped.  Invitees were able to drop off for lunch break and rejoin with their same credentials as long as I (as the host) kept the session open.  Once I closed the session it was “destroyed” and no longer would be valid unless I created a new one and then shared the login info with everyone fresh.

Attendees should be able to resize/shrink the window on their systems to allow better screen space usage.

I haven’t tested to see if participants can log into more that one separately hosted session concurrently for some awesome multi-tasking goodness.

What it Lacks

SharedView isn’t perfect.

It is limited to 15 participants per hosted session.

It doesn’t have a “whiteboard” like feature although I suppose you could use some other application on your hosted system to do the same thing…kind-of.

The chat feature is very basic and doesn’t intuitively provide a running conversation dialog sidebar. It is there. But display seems to cover a portion of the desktop you are trying to view.  A sidebar arrangement would be nicer.

Much more Linkage for the Curious

Here are a whole lot of great SharedView links on the specific features.

Good news is that it appears that SharedView is an actively developed product at Redmond so new releases and updates will continue following.

Valca Verdict on Microsoft SharedView?

Highly Recommended!


--Claus V.


Anonymous said...

There's this utility in Windows Vista called Windows Meeting Space that does the same thing as SharedView but over a local network without internet access using P2P/wireless ad hoc network. You can share your screen and pass handouts/documents all without internet over the wireless LAN. Unfortunately, Microsoft pulled it from Windows 7 and won't offer an exact replacement.

Anonymous said...

How would you compare this to ? I haven't taken the time to check it out yet but it looks promising. Free for up to 20 users.

Anonymous said...

This microsoft thing is good but if you need a quick connection without too much setup, I love ShowMyPC