Vendor targets collaboration at MS portal server

Advanced Reality Inc. Monday released an adapter that adds real-time collaboration features to spreadsheets stored in Microsoft Corp.’s SharePoint Portal Server.

The Presence-AR Adapter for Excel 1.3 allows a user to start a peer-to-peer session from within SharePoint as part of opening a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is then available for other users to view and modify as part of a collaborative session.

Advanced Reality also is working on adapters for SharePoint Portal Server that will allow Microsoft Word and PowerPoint users to hold the same sort of collaborative sessions. The adapters are expected to ship by year-end.

Advanced Reality is building its adapters around an emerging concept called contextual collaboration, where users can collaborate from within their familiar applications without having to switch to a second application to work in partnership. The concept adds efficiencies but also alleviates the need for training and deployment of new applications.

Advanced Reality has already created adapters that work with Excel and PowerPoint and is now modifying them to work within SharePoint Portal Server, a basic document management system from Microsoft.

The adapters modify the check in/check out of the document management system in that a document that is checked out can be shared by other users instead of being tied up solely by the user who originally checked it out.

“Instead of checking out the document you pull it into a collaborative session where others can join and work on the document,” Advanced Reality CTO Derek Ruths says. “We can this incidental collaboration as opposed to intentional collaboration where users plan to get together to work on a document. The focus is really on better use of a document management system.”

To use the software, a component is installed on SharePoint Portal Server that gives users the option of opening a document as a collaborative session. A directory service also is installed on the network that shows end-users a list of available collaborative sessions, and an optional Relay Server can be used to include users from outside the firewall. End-users also need to have the Presence-AR Adapter for Excel installed on their desktop.

Advanced Reality has added some new features to the adapter including integration with Windows NT and 2000 authentication services, an online chat component that includes logging, and a Find/Follow mechanism that lets one user follow another’s actions while sharing a document.

The Presence-AR Adapter for Excel 1.3, which supports SharePoint Portal Server 2001 and Excel 2000 or higher, is priced at US$50,000 for an unlimited number of users or US$5,000 for a 25-user license and is available now.