With threaded Web-based discussions, real-timesIRC chat, and NNTP-based access, O''Reilly''ssWebBoard is a collaborative product that will appealsto many types of customers.

With threaded Web-based discussions, real-timesIRC chat, and NNTP-based access, O''Reilly''ssWebBoard is a collaborative product that will appealsto many types of customers.

June 5, 2002

Collaboration tools are the brave new frontier of the Internet, though they can take many forms, ranging from relatively low-level IRC-based discussions to more elaborate threaded discussions. Covering the spread is the idea behind WebBoard, the Web-conferencing tool from O'Reilly Software.

WebBoard facilitates real-time conferencing among Internet and intranet users in a number of ways. Users can access WebBoard forums in any number of fashions: via a standard newsreader, via electronic mail, via real-time Web-based chat, or reading Web-based asynchronous forums.

This is not a product appropriate for smaller or more casual Web sites; its intended audiences are corporations, larger ISPs, and educational institutions. A single license - reasonably priced at $1,199 - supports up to 255 virtual boards supporting an unlimited number of users. In addition, the single license supports up to 1,000 simultaneous IRC-based chat users.

Under WebBoard, collaboration and chat can take many forms. On the one hand, WebBoard handles real-time and stored discussions based on the Network News Transport Protocol (NNTP), the standard Internet protocol for distributing newsfeeds. In addition, the chat world isn't a monolithic entity; there are many different approaches to enabling chat, ranging from dedicated chat clients to open chat based on the Internet Relay Chat technology. With WebBoard, you can offer two types of chat: JavaScript-based chat (which allows features like custom text, active links, paging, and private discussions between users) or Java-based IRC, which supports up to 1,000 simultaneous users.

Most impressive in this newest version are the added tools for discussion-area customization. WebBoard now supports Open Scripting, which means that scripts created using any popular scripting language (JavaScript, PerlScript, VBScript) can replace or modify WebBoard operations.

Data can be stored on the Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE), but larger corporations will probably want to make use of built-in links to Microsoft SQL Server 6.5 or better.

We installed WebBoard directly on a Windows NT 4.0 server ... read more

We installed WebBoard directly on a Windows NT 4.0 server from a supplied CD-ROM, although there is an evaluation version available on the WebBoard Web site. It comes with a rather minimal Web server from SnapSoft, but we configured it to run with Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) 4.0. There really wasn''t a whole lot to the installation, and it was easy enough to configure WebBoard using the Web-based administration facility.

Users won''t lose track of messages, even ones that they''ve already read, thanks to WebBoard''s powerful search facility. Messages can be searched based on a number of criteria (author, address, date, or status), and results can be sorted as well.

Don''t mistake WebBoard for a true groupware package, however. While you can grant users the power to attach files to their messages, WebBoard doesn''t feature any version-control capabilities, a la eRooms, that would allows users to collaborate and add input to their projects and documents.

ISPs will especially appreciate two aspects to WebBoard: its ability to manage up to 255 boards (each with the capability for individual customization as well as multiple conferences) and the ability to distribute WebBoard discussions across multiple machines, providing a mechanism for full redundancy. In addition, conferences can be placed on different WebBoard installations.

Corporations will appreciate the degree to which the WebBoard interface can be customized, ranging from the look and feel of the interface to the makeup of the types of users, including the ability to delegate management responsibilities to users. Logs indicate the top users of the system (by logins and by posts), the overall activity on a WebBoard installation, all HTTP requests, SMTP activity, uploads, and errors. In addition, the aforementioned scripting capabilities allows WebBoard to better fit within an existing corporate IT structures.

We would have liked to see a smoother way to authenticate users, however. Out of the box WebBoard authenticates on a per-board basis, rather than for the entire site. Authentication is handled via cookie authentication and basic (username and password) authentication. Neither method is on the robust side, and setting up a large number of users could pose a problem for the busy system administrator. WebBoard does include sample scripts that allow a ODBC data source, text file, or Windows NT user database to be imported as the user-database source, but we wished these capabilities would have been built directly into WebBoard and not handled via an outside sample script.

That said, WebBoard is a great tool for enabling collaboration and chat in any number of situations. Once you get past its limitation - namely, limited authentication and the lack of version controls on projects - you''ll find WebBoard to be a valuable and affordable tool.

Pros: Very customizable, !P Affordable, !P Offers discussions in a number of formats, !P Good administration tools
Cons: Only in Windows 98/NT versions, !P Not a true collaboration tool with version control, !P Authentication tools could be better integrated into Windows NT user database

New in v4.2: Fixed a security bug related to log-in names containing invalid characters; fixed a security bug that could compromise a user''s account on boards using cookie authentication; updated boardadd.html and boardedit.html files to require an entry in the Board Name field, preventing WebBoard from returning an er ror on the List Boards page; updated bulkemail.html and bulkpreview.html to all text editing on the Preview file for full customization; updated newuser.html, newuser-e.html, and useredit.html to not allow single quotes, double quotes, or pipes in the log-in name or pa ssword fields; updated the scripting engine to version 5.1 to fix several bugs related to WebBoard Open Scripting; fixed a bug in the indexing routine that caused a Dr. Watson error; deleting users who have not logged in for a specific number of days (from the Site Management page) no longer deletes administrators , managers, or moderators; an administrator can now delete the messages of a deleted user without generating an error; anonymously posted messages no longer display the user''s name, log-in name, and e-mail address in the search results; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 3

New in v5.0: Integrated with ChatSpace Community Server; ASP integration; support for inline graphics; support for an unlimited number of boards; unique home pages for each conference; HTML archiving; e-mail attachment hot link; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 5

Versions Reviewed: 4.0
Date of Review: 8/17/99
Last Updated: 7/27/01
Reviewed by: Kevin Reichard