Nefsis Basic Allows Free Web Collaboration

 
 
By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2010-10-20
 
 
 

Nefsis Basic Allows Free Web Collaboration


Nefsis Basic provides a taste of minimal Web collaboration tools for free, offering two users a chance to communicate via voice and video while sharing documents or a screen. Nefsis offers a much more comprehensive set of collaboration tools with a step up to its more robust, for-pay Nefsis Pro.

Nefsis launched the Basic version of its cloud-based conferencing and collaboration software in late September, allowing a registered user to invite one other person to meet and collaborate in an always-on Web meeting room. With Nefsis Basic, the host and one visitor can communicate via VOIP (voice over IP) audio and low-resolution video, while simultaneously sharing their desktops or documents.

Nefsis Basic is available for free with registration at www.nefsis.com. Signing up for Basic also gives 14 days of free access to the expanded feature set of Nefsis Pro.

In my tests, I found Nefsis Basic indeed provides a registered user with a single always-on meeting room. Logging into the customer portal at www.nefsis.com produces a Web link to the meeting room that can be e-mailed to attendees with the conference room password (if required by the host), or the host can just provide the meeting ID and password instead of the link and a pointer to the Nefsis home page. Any attempt to have more than one attendee join the call gets that user a "License Exceeded" message on screen.

Basic does not provide any scheduling capabilities or unique credentials for participants, so hosts should remember to change the meeting ID or password periodically.

After the user logs into a meeting, the Nefsis application automatically installs itself on Windows PCs (I tested with both Windows XP and Windows 7). Windows 7 users don't need administrative rights on the PC to use Nefsis, since the application installs itself in the AppData directory in the user's profile.

When both host and remote participant have joined a conference, the host can assign rights to the remote caller to make that party a presenter. The host can also grant the attendee additional privileges, most of which are not applicable to Nefsis Basic.

Testing Nefsis Basic


 

With Nefsis Basic, the video conference only works at a very low resolution, with a maximum 352 by 288 pixels at 15 frames per second. As host, I had some control over the video quality (which could be adjusted as low as 160 by 120 pixels at one frame per second) and the audio quality (which I could switch between narrowband and wideband codecs), and I could control when my remote user's microphone, headphones and Webcam were enabled for use in the call. The video was embossed with a large Nefsis watermark in the lower right corner of both video streams.

In Basic, I could share my host desktop with the participant, with the ability to select which screen if in a multimonitor setup. I could also share documents: Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and text files were all easily shared most of the time. While Nefsis also let me share PDF files, I found the PDFs would sometimes appear garbled on both sides of the call. Other times, the shared PDF would blink rapidly, making it hard to read. And in that case, if I stopped sharing the PDF, the document would still appear on the participant's screen for several minutes, continuously blinking throughout.

Users should be aware that document sharing does require the installation of a Nefsis printer element and that installing the Nefsis printer does require admin rights (or printer add privileges) on the local PC.

I found the host and the remote participant could simultaneously share multiple items; although only one item shows at a time, the host can toggle the view between the items by clicking through the tabs at the bottom of the presenter window.

Basic also offers a chat window, allowing both participants to send instant messages alongside-or instead of-the video and audio portions of the call.

Along the bottom tool bar of Nefsis interface are a number of tools provided to help users troubleshoot problematic calls. From the Audio Settings button, I could select the microphone and speakers to use during the call and adjust the levels of each. I could also enable or disable acoustic echo cancellation.

The System Rating button provides an easy-to-understand assessment of the hardware capabilities of the PC in use. Using a five-bar rating system, the tool evaluates the system's processor speed and its advanced multimedia capabilities. The Secure button gauges the call's transport security, detailing the encryption used to protect the call, while the Connection rating also uses a five-bar system to judge the application's network performance, reporting the port in use (which I found varied between TCP 22, 23, 443 and 37000) and  the high, low and average response times (in milliseconds) over the last minute.

Nefsis Pro Features


 

As mentioned above, registering for Nefsis Basic also includes a 14-day trial of Nefsis Pro's functionality. After the trial period, subscriptions for Nefsis Pro start at $350 per month for five concurrent users. Volume discounts are also available.

Nefsis Pro provides a lot more oomph in terms of both meeting scheduling and in-meeting services.

With Pro, I was able to set up multiple meetings. The host's personal meeting room is still there, but I could also add additional meetings with a different ID and passwords. I could either fire up a new quick meeting or schedule a meeting for a specific time with a list of attendees who would be automatically e-mailed the meeting information with log-in credentials. It does not appear that Nefsis supports unique per-user credentials for the same meeting, however.

Pro provides additional ways to invite participants once the host is already within a meeting, offering buttons to send invitations via e-mail through a connector to Outlook on the host's PC, or links to tell people out of band.

Within a Pro conference, I found I could also share individual applications open on the host's desktop, or share just a region of my screen. Application and screen shares also come with a whiteboarding capability, allowing the host and permitted participants to highlight on-screen material or mark up a session with notes, corrections and the like. Presenters can also share handouts and other materials with participants via the Files & Handouts button.

The video resolution possible during for video calls is much higher with the Pro version. From the video button at the top of the screen, I could set the conferencewide resolution as high as 640 by 480, but I could also set resolutions and frame rates for individual users-such as those with 720p Webcams.

Pro also offers a handy media-share capability that allows the presenter to share audio or video clips with the meeting participants. I was able to share MP3 and WMV audio, along with AVIs and some-but not all-H.264-encoded files, as I found the video element of some HandBrake-encoded video files would not play correctly. I also found that while Nefsis did a remarkably good job of keeping the media playback synchronized across all the meeting attendees, allowing a presenter to be able to comment accurately on what everyone was experiencing at the time, the audio and video within shared files often get out of sync when using Nefsis.

I found Pro had remote troubleshooting built in, allowing a host to take over a participant's desktop, although the host would have no access to protected parts of the operating system such as User Account Control prompts.

Hosts can record Pro meetings for later playback, although this feature requires the installation of a special AVI codec.

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