If you're part of the mass of humanity toilsomely dragging paper around the office every day, Netopia Virtual Office from Farallon Communications could be just the ticket. You can set up a virtual office on the World Wide Web, complete with a place for people to leave messages for you, converse with you and exchange files with you.
Virtual Office has features that may not be for everyone, but it is worth a look.
Virtual Office is a simple Web server you install and personalise - a step that takes about five minutes. It then lets your associates connect to your machine to obtain information, exchange documents, and communicate with you. Also, you can let certain users monitor what is happening on your machine and even control your machine - ideal for going over a presentation with a colleague at a remote site or for supporting end users without leaving the comfort of your help desk.
As part of the installation process, Virtual Office registers you with Farallon's special DNS server so that you have a unique URL that identifies your office. For instance, we set up ARNOFFICE.NETOPIA.COM. Whenever you start your Virtual Office, it checks in with the Farallon server so the server knows your IP address. This is a nice feature for those with dial-up access or those on networks with Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol.
If your associates know your URL, they can connect via a Web browser to your Virtual Office whenever it is running.
When they connect, they have the option of looking up contact information about you via your "business card", leaving messages for you, checking to see if you are at your computer, or conferencing with you.
You also have the option of allowing or barring access to any of these features by yourself, trusted users, or the entire world.
Although the Virtual Office client does run in a browser, it requires a Netscape plug-in or ActiveX controls for some of its functionality.
Some of the most interesting features of Virtual Office are in the Conference section. Your associates can observe what is happening on your machine, control your machine, exchange files with you, speak to you if you (and they) have a microphone, or participate in a text-based chat session with you.
Also, the in and out boxes are handy because they facilitate the exchange of electronic documents.
Someone can get a document from you simply by clicking on it in a browser window. This eliminates the headache of worrying about e-mail attachments.
Although the features that let others look at or control your desktop might sound a bit Orwellian, you have absolute control over access to your system in this manner.
If you decide to use Virtual Office, it is important that you understand what the security implications of the features are, so that you can set them properly. If all this sounds a bit confusing, it really isn't.
The bottom line is that for the RRP of $125 ($US50 if bought electronically from Farallon's site) you get a pretty cool personal virtual-office application that will actually move you one step closer to the office of tomorrow. Spending 30 minutes with this program might just change the way you work.
You can download a 30-day evaluation copy at www.netopia.comReview: Netopia Virtual OfficeThis clever, useful, and inexpensive pro-duct lets you set up a virtual office space on the Internet, providing an interesting approach to creating a better workplace with Web technology. If you do nothing else, download the evaluation copy, and take a look at it.
Pros: Central, Web-based "point of contact" for users; in- and outboxes that facilitate transfer of electronic documents; ease of setup and maintenance.
Cons: Need to educate users about security implications.
Price: $125 shrinkpack and site licensing is available. A 100 licence pack costs $6730Platforms: Windows 3.x, Windows 95.
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