Microsoft goes to Tahiti

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Codenamed ‘Tahiti’ – Microsoft SharedView is now available as a public beta.

Last time I was in Tahiti, we tied up next to Paul Allen’s boat (well, one of the floating apartments for the Microsoft co-founder) though in a considerably less impressive vessel. ‘Tahiti’ is also the code name for Microsoft’s latest effort in the teamwork / collaboration arena.

‘Microsoft Tahiti’ is now called Microsoft SharedView and the public beta is now available for free download. You’ll need a Windows Live account to login and start a SharedView session.

With SharedView you can let people on different computers see what’s on your computer screen or just a single program (ie Word, Internet Explorer etc). Documents can be shared with participants via the ‘Handouts’ feature.

Starting a session is simple, just invite people to join in. They need to install SharedView and use a short passcode and session name to gain access. You can email or IM people into the SharedView session and there are even instructions for calling someone direct. The ‘participants’ joining do not need a Windows Live ID.

Once they are in the session the ‘participants’ can view the shared screen. If they move their mouse over the shared view, their pointer appears to other participants with a label (so you can ‘point’ at something on the shared screen.

Full control of the shared screen can be given to a participant or they can request it. When that happens, the controller can use mouse and keyboard on the shared program.

There can be multiple screens shared in the one session. You can see another’s screen while sharing your own. This could be useful for a group where someone is taking notes; a Word session can appear so everyone can see it or the notetaking task can be shared. However each screen needs to be from a different participant, it didn’t seem possible to share multiple application screens from a single participant (ie a Powerpoint presentation and a separate program).

‘Handouts’ are shared documents that any participant can upload or download to others. Currently the limit is a generous 100MB per session. You can upload any file into this shared space.

SharedView comes with advertising, a small ad when logging into a session and a ‘skyscraper’ ad on the side of the viewing pane.

What’s lacking is a way for people to communicate – at the moment SharedView is the equivalent of a silent movie. You need to add a phone connection or VOIP conference call to talk while sharing a screen and handout. There’s not even direct support for using Windows Messenger IM sessions which is quite astonishing.

SharedView public beta is a 3MB download – Windows XP and Vista users only.

Strangely, Microsoft says:

‘SharedView Beta may only be used within the United States of America’

with no reason given. Despite this unexplained parochialism we had no problem installing and using it across several continents.

One of the install options is the have SharedView start automatically with Windows – it might be prudent to disable that option during the beta process and only start SharedView when it’s needed. We had no trouble with the SharedView beta though there were a few glitches on multiple monitor displays and with certain video drivers.

SharedView is a welcome addition to the growing number of products available to the casual user. If things like Microsoft Groove are too expensive or imposing for you then Microsoft SharedView is worth a look.

It’s a simple way to share computer screens among people in diverse locations. If you’re trying to get computer help from a friend, this is a way to do it without driving around – though there are other ways to do the same thing (Remote Desktop in Windows XP and Vista, VNC and others).

The lack of broad support for Windows versions let alone Mac or Linux means there’s a place for a similar product from another, less myopic, provider.

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