David Strom

Future Labs' TalkShow

By David Strom

One of the hardest things to do with computers is to use them to collaborate on a project.

Here's a typical scenario: you have two days to produce a proposal and send it to your client.

The team that is chosen for the proposal is spread among three offices across the country.

During that time, your fax machine is busy transmitting documents, spreadsheets, drawings

and so forth. Even though you are all connected via the same network and you all use

computers to create your work, you still can't share your work very effectively. You end up

retyping, redrawing, or doing other manual labor to get around the limitations of collaborating

with computers.For many of us, despite millions of technology dollars, the fax machine

remains the lowest common office automation denominator for getting work done between

two people.

Well, fax may finally become less critical with a new version of software from Future Labs,

Inc. called TalkShow. TalkShow represents an innovative means of collaborating among

Windows users, and both network-connected and modem users can share their work with a

minimum of fuss and bother. While the program has lots of good features, I can't recommend

it for the enterprise because it is copy-protected.

Some analysts call this class of programs "shared whiteboards," due to the fact that when you

first bring up the software you have a blank screen and a drawing tool.  When you connect to

other users they can see your drawing and annotate it with their own special-colored pens.

But this is just one aspect of these products: the real key is being able to share all sorts of

computer-generated files easily over long distance.

Before you get involved in these type of products, you should understand how the various

pieces fit together. There is more to it than just picking your hardware and software.

First off, some of the software products only work under certain conditions. For example,

many of the shared whiteboards only work across modem connections, and then only when

certain kinds of modems are at either end of the connection. And, many products are

restricted to particular operating system platforms, such as Windows. 

If all you care about is a modem-to-modem connection for your collaboration, then you have

a few products to choose from. There are three different architectures that allow you to share

your modem connection between voice and data conversations, what I call a multiplexing

modem. The players are AT&T Paradyne [Largo, FL] with its VoiceSpan technology,

MultiTech Systems, Inc. [Mounds View, MN] with its Talk Anytime technology, and Radish

Communications Systems, Inc.[Boulder, CO] with its VoiceView. All of them are

incompatible with each other, unfortunately. 

How does it work? You call your friend via an ordinary telephone. Both your phone and your

friend's are connected to a matched pair of special modems that support the particular

technology. You install the particular software that supports the particular modem you've got,

which for these three are Windows products called FarSite (included with some Paradyne

modems and from DataBeam Corp. [Lexington, KY]), TalkShow (included with some

MultiTech modems), and Radish's own software. Radish's software only works with its

modems, the other two work with a variety of products.

The software brings up a blank whiteboard and you can either using the drawing tools or

import an image or a document into this area. You then transmit this information across the

link. Your friend can see what you've got on your screen (and vice-versa) and you both can

make annotations while you are talking to each other across the link.

Actually, Radish's VoiceView doesn't do concurrent voice and data: when you want to move

data, the voice conversation is interrupted while the data is copied over. The modem

automatically switches the voice channel back on when it is done moving the data. This

means that the full bandwidth of the line is devoted to only one particular operation, ensuring

the fastest file transfers and the best quality connections for voice. The other two technologies

allow for concurrent and continuous transmissions of voice and data. In all cases, if you have

the multiplexing modem, you can collaborate with a single phone call. If you don't, you'll

have to make two calls: one for voice, one for data.

MultiTech's architecture dynamically adjusts the bandwidth available for either, depending on

the amount of talking going on. AT&T's VoiceSpan sets a fixed bandwidth for each channel,

regardless of whether any talking is going on or data is being moved. 

Interestingly, both Paradyne and MultiTech have licensed VoiceView technology and plan on

supporting it in future modems. Indeed, Radish's technology has been widely licensed to just

about every major modem vendor, including Intel, Hayes and US Robotics, and also by

Microsoft, who plans on including it in some future version of Windows. That's great, but

none of these vendors have begun shipping any Radish-enabled modems as of yet.

But these are all Windows-oriented solutions. What if you have a mixture of Windows and

Macintoshes? A new product from Crosswise Corp. [Santa Cruz, CA] called Face to Face is

the only thing available that will run across platforms, and its Windows version is still in beta

as of mid-June. (The Macintosh-only version has been shipping for several months, however.)

Are you still with me? I told you that navigating the various bits and pieces wasn't easy. Let's

get back to TalkShow. It has some notable differences: first off, it allows both

network-attached users and those connected via modems to work together, and you can mix

both types of connections with the right hardware installed. The Radish and Databeam

software is strictly for modem connections, and Face to Face can do either LAN or modem

connections, but not both from the same machine. 

For networked users to connect with TalkShow you must have either an IPX, NetBIOS or an

IP transport. IPX was added with its 2.1 version, which is a nice improvement. And because

there are still many-flavored Windows IP stacks, Future Labs has done the honorable thing

and tried to support some of them: stacks from FTP Software, Novell, NetManage, Sun, and

Microsoft's Windows for Workgroups/LAN Manager are included in the current version.

Microsoft's Winsock stack, along with stacks supporting Beame & Whiteside and Wollongong

are all promised for the next version 2.2, according to the vendor. 

After making sure that you've got the support for right transport installed and loaded, you fire

up Windows and connect to the appropriate user. Here's where that copy protection rears its

ugly head: if you are using two identical serial numbers, you'll find out at this point and

TalkShow won't let you connect. While I am not advocating illegal copying of software, this

is the 1990s: copy protection was last seen in the ancient Ashton Tate's dBase II and Lotus'

1-2-3 version 1A. It doesn't belong in a modern software product, and Future Labs should

remove it forthwith. When they do, I'll wholeheartedly recommend this product for the


Futre Labs has a hokey work-around: you can create a "guest copy" of your software, which

allows anyone to conference with you but not any other legit user. And they even make a

guest copy freely available on Compuserve or America On-line so that you can test drive the

product by calling in to their own offices. That's nice, but still no substitute for eliminating

copy protection entirely.

As I said earlier, one of the nice things about TalkShow is that you can even mix and match

modem connections with network connections, which is a neat trick and something that none

of  the others can currently do.

If you don't use the MultiTech modems, you can still use TalkShow: however, then you will

not be able to use the multiplexing ability to share the line with a voice conversation. 

Another advantage of TalkShow is that the product has a great deal of flexibility in how you

move information into its shared whiteboard. You can cut and paste through the Windows

clipboard, use OLE routines (if your software has the right version of OLE, which could be a

problem) or you can load a variety of image formats directly. Another alternative is a nifty

capture routine where you first navigate to the image or application you want to capture and

then merely click on a mouse button. Radish, DataBeam and Crosswise cannot match all of

these methods: for example, Radish only allows cut and paste operations from the clipboard.

A final differentiating feature is the ability to transfer data files from one computer to

another. This is probably more important for the modem users than for the LAN-connected.

Both TalkShow and Radish software includes the ability to transfer files, while the FarSite

and Face to Face software do not. 

How fast does it take to move data across the link? Obviously, you wouldn't want to move

megabytes over the modems, but for files that are under 100 kBytes it doesn't take very long

-- just a few seconds. And, if you are carrying on a voice conversation, the lag time to update

the screen is very acceptable with TalkShow in either modem or LAN connections.

You can buy TalkShow directly, or you can obtain it as part of a package deal from two

sources: One way is to get is the InVision Systems Corp. [Vienna, VA] Invision video

conferencing product.

Another is via MultiTech's PCS modem, which has been shipping for about a year but only

recently came with TalkShow. While the price is a bit steep ($799, CHECK)  the modem also

includes lots of software besides TalkShow: there is MultiTech's PCS utilities which turn your

phone into a combination answering machine and fax. 

One disadvantage to buying the modem is that you don't get any TalkShow documentation,

which is sure helpful to have. Another is that the version I received was several versions

behind what Future Labs was currently shipping. Of course, part of that problem is that

Future Labs like to revise its product frequently: in the course of the two months since I first

received the product, there were one major revision (to version 2.1, to add support for IPX)

and several minor releases. While I applaud the vendor's initiative, I am not fond of software

du jour and wish they would limit their revisions to at least quarterly updates. 

My bottom line? Try it out via the Compuserve or America On-Line download and see if you

like it: it won't cost you more than the connect time. And if you need to mix LAN and

modem users on your next collaborative project, this is the only game in town at the moment

-- short of sending faxes around.

Vital Stats: Future Labs' TalkShow desktop conferencing "shared whiteboard" (pick one)

Version 2.1 shipping since June

$199 for one, $945 for five-user license, other deals available for up to 100 user licenses

Ready for the Enterprise? NO, mainly because software is copy-protected.

UP: Provides for collaboration among modem and network-connected users 

UP: Supports IPX, IP and NetBIOS protocols 

Competitive analysis:

DOWN: Radish's VoiceView is easier to use but has less functionality.

Test bed:

A Dell 486/D50 and an Intel clone 486/66 Windows machines connected alternatively on the

same NetWare network or via two MultiTech modems. Modems from Radish and AT&T

Paradyne were also used to test VoiceView and VoiceSpan/FarSite software respectively. Two

Macintoshes (one a IIvx and the other a Duo 250) on a LocalTalk/AppleTalk network were

also used to test Face to Face software.

Vendor info:

Future Labs, Inc.

5150 El Camino Real #E-21

Los Altos, CA 94022

415 254 9000

415 254 9010 (fax)


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David Strom David Strom Port Washington, NY 11050 USA US TEL: 1 (516) 944-3407