Calgary firm takes online conferencing product open source

A Canadian company is offering an open-source Web conferencing system it hopes will interest ISVs in its development tools.

Based on asynchronous Java and HTML (also known as Ajax), WebMC is a simple but working piece of collaboration software that allows users to save a PowerPoint presentation in .JPEG format and upload it to a Web site where the hosted solution allows team to work together online with built-in chat rooms.

WebMC is built on IceFaces, which is designed to allow developers to create rich applications in Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE). Like WebMC, IceFaces was recently released as an open source project, with the idea that customers might eventually pay for support services from Calgary-based IceSoft Technologies Inc. the way they might for Red Hat or JBoss products.

Brian McKinney, IceSoft’s president and founder, said WebMC and IceFaces were released as open source products after considerable pull from the community.

“We were outgunned,” he said. “We needed to involve the community to a greater degree to advance the product the way we wanted to.”

Since open sourcing IceFaces, for example, McKinney said the company has seen downloads skyrocket from about 2,000 a month to more than 30,000 in the last two weeks.

Although it can be integrated with Internet audio conferencing, multimedia formats, and shared whiteboard capability, WebMC was originally just a demo product to showcase IceFaces, McKinney said.

“Its magnitude as a collaborative software application just kept growing and growing,” he said. “At trade shows or among analysts, interest kept increasing.”

Forrester Research open source server market analyst Michael Goulde said Ajax is still at a relatively early stage of adoption, and some customers may associate it with Google mashups rather than proven business tools.

“It’s important for them to see what are the other capabilities” of the technology,” he said, adding that seeding the developer community with an useful application makes sense. “The danger you run is that you get more known for that product than you do for your (developer) tools.”

McKinney said he doesn’t think that will happen. “It’s certainly not a WebEx type of tool,” he said. “We don’t really want to be a WebEx kind of business.”

IceSoft has managed to attract a number of Fortune 500 clients in the financial services space, he added, which have been using its tools to create internal systems to handle mortgages or wealth management functions.


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