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Just A Peek - Glance

March 5th, 2007

I was chatting with a friend of mine recently and I was telling her about this sudoku habit I've developed and that I can't seem to get enough of the puzzles.

"I've never really looked at them," she told me. "But I'd like to learn how to play."

So I started to explain some of the basics of solving the puzzles, then it dawned on me that my explanation would go a lot further if I could actually show her what I was talking about.

If I were on a PC I'd simply fire up NetMeeting and share my desktop, letting her see me work the puzzle as I explained (of course, I'd have to open a port or put my computer in my "DMZ" - the no man's land just beyond my firewall- and be vulnerable to all kinds of attacks). Alas, desktop sharing is one of the few areas where PCs and Microsoft's XP outshines Apple's offerings; NetMeeting has been a staple of Windows for years, though many people don't know about it and those that do don't use it because the app is so insecure.

Live desktop sharing is slated to appear on the Mac with the release of the next version of OS X, code name: Leopard, and even then there may be no compatibility with Microsoft's NetMeeting or Communicator, Big Redmond's new collaboration application.

Of course, there's VNC, the open source application that lets others have access to your desktop, but while VNC is extremely useful it is not extremely simple to use, especially for the non-technical types. (I use VINE Server (OSXvnc) for a server and Chicken of the VNC as a client. Both are easy, but try to explain that to someone who has never used either before.)

Lucky for me the folks at Glance Networks sent me their latest bit of magic; Glance.

What you see...
With Glance, I can let up to 15 people see what I'm doing on my desktop. I don't have to be overly concerned about the number of viewers slowing down my network connection, Glance is server based; I connect to a server which allows others, regardless of computing platform, to also connect and see what I'm doing. So, my PC using friend can watch while I explain the finer points of solving a sudoku puzzle. What's also cool is I can also have a video or voice iChat session running simultaneously if my bandwidth allows (mine does) so I can smile, talk or type while I present.

I don't have to be concerned about security either;†unlike VNC, others can't take over control of your desktop, they can see what you're doing, but that's it. (Of course, I can elect not to allow remote control with VNC, but that's more complications.)

Using Glance is extremely simple. If I want to host a session I simply fire up Glance and click on 'Start Session' in the Menu Bar drop-down menu. The Glance app will connect me to the Glance server and gives me session information (my Glance Web page and session key) which I then pass on to those I want to participate.

Glance Session start-up screen

The participants can use any web browser to access the Glance Web page, once there they enter the session key and; Viola! They see my desktop.

My PC using friend was able to see my desktop in less than a minute and all she had to do was go to a website and enter a number. Very simple, very clean, very easy. Just the way I like it.

But wait, there's more...
If you do a lot of online demos then you would likely want your customers to see your company's logo instead of Glance's. Not a problem: Glance offers customizable portals so that you can put your company's best face forward. This is a great idea; it lets businesses keep a professional image while offering a nice high-tech conferencing solution.

Example of a Glance portal configured with a company logo

Keeping it simple is a good thing and Glance continues in this tradition with its pricing structure: a license costs US$49.95 a month. For that you can use Glance one session at a time, as many times as you want, for however long you need the session to last. Remember that each session can accommodate up to 15 people and they can watch you presentations for free. Also remember that Glance puts a level of indirection between you and the Internet; your computer can stay safely behind your firewall and you can still provide a quick and easy means of fairly secure collaboration.

Glance also offers corporate rates, which lets any number of your company's employees host a session, and includes other perks as well. You simply pay for the number of concurrent use licenses you need. (Realistically, unless you have a large sales team who depend on online demos, you likely won't need more than a few concurrent use licenses.)

What you don't see...
Simplicity is good, but even that can be taken too far. Glance let you show others your desktop and anything you happen to be doing on your desktop, which may not always be a good thing. If you are a well organized person, this is not a problem, but if your desktop looks like mine then the fewer people to see it the better. Think of it as inviting others into your home and they follow you around everywhere you go; to the kitchen, garage, bedroom, bathroom..., you get the idea.

Glance offers no means of restricting what people see and don't see on your desktop. In situations where you may not want others to see, for instance, where you store sensitive data, then you need to make sure that you open only what you intend to show, possibly from a folder on your desktop. You also want to make sure you don't have anything embarrassing easily viewable from your desktop.

Another thing is that since Glance only allows you to push out information, others can't contribute thru Glance; there is no whiteboard, built in chat function, or other means of collaboration.

Bottom line...
There are other collaboration tools available, but few offer the shear simplicity of use Glance does. For the casual individual, $50 a month is a bit steep, but for those whose livelihood depend on a relatively secure means of online collaboration and conferencing, Glance can be worth every penny.

As to my sudoku training session; my friend was impressed, not only with the breath of my sudoku knowledge, but also with my high-tech prowess. And she got a chance to see how easy things are on a Mac; always a bonus.

Review Item Glance
Manufacturer Glance Networks
Price US$49.95 per month

Corporate rates available
Any Mac or PC with an Internet connection

Vern Seward is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

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