Nortels new Meridian Internet Messaging System
(MIMS) is a client/server conferencing and collaboration product that features text chat,
POTS audio and URL-based document sharing. End users need Netscape Navigator (minimum
4.05) or Internet Explorer (minimum 4.01), plus an analog or DID-enabled digital telephone
line. The server connects to a Nortel Meridian 1 Series PBX with a Meridian Internet
Conferencing Block (MICB).
MIMS was still a beta product when we reviewed it and its documentation was not finished
yet. Meanwhile, our laboratorys arsenal includes a Nortel switch, but its not
a Meridian 1 model, and we didnt have the time or space to buy and install an entire
PBX just to review one conferencing product. So, we tested MIMS real-life
functionality by linking to a server at Nortel. Although we were not able to experience
the installation firsthand, Nortel media relations provided us with the beta documentation
and the same overview documents used to train interconnects.
We gathered as much installation information as we could from the interconnects
manual. MIMS sells as a bundle that includes the server software, user licenses, PC
Anywhere software, a server, and the MICB, all of which are factory-installed. System
administrators can also buy the components individually and install them on-site.
Organizations that plan to have meetings with six or fewer attendees can choose not to buy
the MICB, opting instead to use the Meridian telephones respective 3/6-way
conferencing features. Requirements include Windows NT 4.0 Server, 128 MB of RAM, 4 GB
hard disk space, two network cards, a DAT drive, and a 33.6 Kbps modem.
The main installation guide was thin, but its three chapters covered a wide range of
topics. These topics included a definition of the intended reader and a list of related
documents, plus lists of requirements for the on-site telecommunications system and for
client and server hardware and software. There was also a site preparation guide,
discussion of the server and MICB installations, information on configuring the database
and product registration, and information about start-up scripting and final
configuration. Unfortunately, all of this was crammed into 12 pages, with the phrase
"see related document
" repeated several times. We liked the online help
file better this document had well-organized how-to sections in which all functions
were listed in alphabetical order, and each function had an explanation followed by
step-by-step directions. There were hyperlinks everywhere and simple definitions of the
features, GUI buttons, and room scheme.
The MIMS feature set begins with its most basic design goal: To let users share and
discuss documents using no special software or hardware other than a telephone and an
up-to-date Web browser. This is something that MIMS does well. Users who only have access
to a telephone can attend the audio portion of a meeting, and Web attendees can bring
documents for personal reference or to share with other attendees. Any document created in
or embedded into a URL works users just need to link the document to a briefcase.
Then, users can open documents locally or share them, which makes them appear on the
rooms conference table or on a similar image. The file folder also sits on the
conference table in the room and serves as a central overflow resource, where users can
put documents if the table area gets too crowded.
The meeting agenda and business cards are two other interesting functions. Agendas are
made by whoever creates a room and starts the meeting, and they are accessed through the
rooms properties menu. Business cards are created and viewed through a similar
method: Each user configures their own properties, which are viewed when other users
right-click on a given user and choose properties. Other features include:
- Unlimited meeting attendees.
- Customizable user avatars.
- Multiple avatars per user.
- Graphical view/list view toggle for organizing crowded rooms.
- Room and user link directories.
- Guest user option, enabling basic features for some users.
- Up to 32 simultaneous voice calls when using the MICB.
- Time-stamped error logging and current usage updates for administrators.
- Room persistence room data remains even if a user exits and enters again.
Another feature of MIMS that we find valuable is its ability to be an appropriate
product for several industries. Because of its document sharing and one-to-all chat mode,
MIMS would work well in distance learning or forum-like groups. Because it doesnt
require a lot of new hardware for a business that is already Nortel-equipped, it makes a
good conferencing product for enterprise situations. We caution, however, that MIMS is not
a replacement or competitor for NetMeeting, which would be more appropriate in cases when
separate telephone and network connections are not available or when the voice quality
isnt as important as the feature set.
After opening the proper intranet or Internet site and wading through two layers of
password protection and a lobby view, users see their own and other attendees
avatars, which can be clip art images, scanned photographs, etc. Theoretically, even an
animated .GIF file should work here, although we didnt try it because uploading
ones own avatar was one of several miscellaneous features that were unavailable in
our beta software. All attendees except designated "guests" have the power to
invite others to meetings and to build or tear down new rooms, but only the rooms
system administrator can designate the current room properties.
Users local windows also show images of a virtual briefcase and the central file
folder, and everyone can share URLs and conduct text chats in one-to-one or one-to-all
modes. Audio conferencing is switched on or off by any user, but the call originates from
the server side, where the Meridian PBXs MICB calls users real-life
telephones. If an MICB is not in use, a standard 3/6-way conference call can originate
from any user. (Individual users and the system administrator can both set media
properties i.e., whether or not new attendees are automatically brought into text
chat mode or automatically telephoned by the server.)
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
In addition to slow load time and expense, there a few things we would change about MIMS
before recommending it. One is the business card option card data is stored on the
server for as long as the room exists, even if a user exits and enters again, but there is
no way to collect and store cards locally. We suggest that Nortel use the standard .VCF
file format for business cards. Also, using the Meridian 1/MICB tandem limits the system
to 32 simultaneous voice calls, which would not be enough for many applications.
MIMS could also benefit from an option that resembles FTP, which would allow users to
add files that dont have an associated URL, and a whiteboard option, perhaps over
IP. As we explained above, no one at Nortel ever intended for MIMS to replace products
like NetMeeting, but whiteboarding is a very important feature, and if the network
connection exists for text chat anyway, how hard could it be to add whiteboarding?
One thing that we especially like about MIMS is its help file, and were fond of the
metaphors in place of avatars, briefcases, conference tables, etc. We dislike the
limitations of the video conferencing dialing ability if its not an analog
telephone or a DID number, then MIMS cant dial it, and there are a lot more standard
digital telephones with extensions in use than any other kind. MIMS goes on sale in early
1999, and were already looking forward to seeing improvements in its next version.