Real-time collaboration with a twist

Start-up Advanced Reality this week will introduce software that plugs into corporate applications and provides real-time collaboration without the need to alter existing user interfaces.

While interest in real-time collaboration is catching on, it often involves the use of specific applications. Enterprise customers would prefer to collaborate from within established corporate applications, in this case Microsoft Excel, to avoid the cost of training and purchasing new applications.

Experts call this “contextual” collaboration, where users can access collaboration features from within standard software.

Advanced Reality is trying to meet that need with Presence-AR, a Java-based application that embeds within applications and lets users share data in real time over a peer-to-peer connection. The trick is adapting the data for presentation within any interface, rather than creating a separate collaboration environment with a common data format.

“This software doesn’t require users to learn a new application environment. It doesn’t try to change the application architecture,” says Tyler McDaniel, an analyst with Hurwitz Group. “It gives users new options from within applications they already use.”

But McDaniel says that Advanced Reality still must define concrete enterprise examples for use of the software. Also, the company has yet to create any adapters beyond Microsoft Excel, but plans to release a software development kit next year.

The company doesn’t plan to release a stable of standard adapters, but will custom develop them as part of corporate projects.

The software uses a patent-pending technology that maps data between applications and frees it from a specific operating system, application or user interface.

For example, Presence-AR allows an Excel user to share and edit spreadsheet data with a user running Lotus 1-2-3. The spreadsheet data created in Excel would be represented within a spreadsheet using the 1-2-3 interface and either user could alter the data given proper permission.

Presence-AR consists of a runtime environment and adapters for specific applications. The run-time is a 157KB block of code that can install on just about any desktop or device. It creates a collaboration environment and brokers the data representation. The adapters are written to hook applications to the run-time and provide interactive capabilities such as editing as well as business rules and other access controls.

Presence-AR run-time environments are connected using peer-to-peer technology for ad hoc collaboration or in a server-centric fashion where data is stored centrally. The software provides security such as authentication and encryption.

The software lets users work in real-time and asynchronous modes. While it has a unique technology that makes data collaborative, it competes with Groove Networks.

Presence-AR costs US$50,000 to US$200,000, based on the number of adapters and software licensing. Advanced Reality is creating a C# version for compatibility with Microsoft’s .Net initiative.

Advanced Reality can be reached at