Advanced Reality this week will release collaboration software that plugs into Microsoft's Excel and lets users of that application share spreadsheet data from within the familiar interface.
Presence-AR Adapter for Microsoft Excel is an example of what experts are calling a contextual collaboration product, which lets teamwork features be plugged into applications. Current collaboration products require the deployment of a separate system to support group-sharing capabilities.
Contextual collaboration holds that users should stay in familiar application interfaces and not have to call up a separate program to work in partnership. It also alleviates the need for training and deployment of new applications.
Lotus Software Group and Microsoft are working on the same concept with the features of their products. And Groove Networks is developing support for Excel and Microsoft Word in its product.
"With Advanced Reality, our idea exchange is much more fluid because everyone can see the changes being made," said David Bonner, global director of technology for Rohm and Haas, a global chemicals manufacturer in Philadelphia. "Now we can work collaboratively and we completely avoid the training aspect because we stay in Excel." Rohm and Haas has a data-capturing and sharing process, but Bonner says changes currently have to be made offline. Bonner also plans to use the adapter for Microsoft Word that Advanced Reality is developing.
The Java-based Presence-AR Adapter plugs into Excel along with Presence AR, software to facilitate connections using a peer-to-peer connection. Unlike application-sharing programs that leave one user in control of one interface, Presence extracts the data and uses the application interface merely as a viewer.
When Presence AR Adapter is loaded into Excel it creates a "Begin Collaboration" button on the toolbar. When the button is clicked, users see a list of existing documents they can access, or they can create a new document. During a collaboration session, users can enter or edit data and formulae; cut, copy, paste and drag-and-drop cells; and create and add new workbooks. Connections between peers are encrypted using Secure Sockets Layer, and users who create the documents can regulate access to entire documents or fields of data using passwords, digital certificates or token cards. Companies can set up a central file system to store spreadsheet data, or spreadsheets can be stored on desktops.
"It's a very fluid use of collaboration," says Tyler McDaniel, an analyst with Hurwitz Group. "It's one of those things that can make a daily impact on data sharing and ensure that everyone is up to speed. This is a good departmental application."
The software also shows a history of changes when the mouse pointer is placed over a cell. A SQL database also can be used to record and audit changes. The software includes a lightweight Java-based directory that runs on the network and lets Presence users find and establish peer connections.
Advanced Reality plans to add support for Lightweight Directory Access Protocol.
The software is available now and costs $50,000 for a site licence, which allows unlimited users.