DBabble -- Multifaceted chat server

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Jun 25, 2002


Despite allegations that the Internet facilitates an asocial society, the fact remains that most people use the Internet to yap -- whether in e-mail or instant messages or discussion forums. This is not to say that yapping is a trivial thing; communication is vital to us all, and software manufacturers crowd the field with their attempts to appeal to our communications needs.

Despite allegations that the Internet facilitates an asocial society, the fact remains that most people use the Internet to yap -- whether in e-mail or instant messages or discussion forums. This is not to say that yapping is a trivial thing; communication is vital to us all, and software manufacturers crowd the field with their attempts to appeal to our communications needs.

With DBabble, NetWin has tried to appeal to a variety of communications needs within one integrated messaging center. With the DBabble server running on a compatible host system, users who connect to the host can exchange instant messages, engage in one-on-one real-time conversation, leave messages or attachments for each other, post to threaded discussion forums, or join real-time chat rooms. The flexible system lets users participate through a variety of channels: a Web-based interface supported by any recent JavaScript-enabled browser, Usenet newsreaders, e-mail clients, and NetWin's own client software.

A DOS-based install script is launched when installing DBabble on Windows NT or Windows 2000. While these text-based prompts may be familiar to a Unix hacker, they will likely come across as awkward to those used to a Windows environment. Installation is straightforward, although a traditional Windows install wizard would be a polishing touch. At a slim 4 MB installed, DBabble is a quick study, and is set up and ready to use to chat in minutes. The two most full-featured ways for users to access DBabble are through its Web-based interface or NetWin's own client software.

The advantage of using NetWin's client is its ease of use with respect to the slightly klunkier Web-based interface. However, the Web-based interface is far more customizable, supporting a template language that DBabble administrators can use to customize the look and feel of the DBabble user interface, which cannot be done to NetWin's client interface. Through either interface, administrators can remotely configure the DBabble server, including adding (or removing) privileges for certain users.

Once a user logs into DBabble (regardless of the interface), he or she can surf between the different communication areas. For example, a user might search for someone who is also logged into the server and send an instant message. The two can then initiate a real-time chat. A user might elect to join or create a chatroom where other users (all or restricted) may join in. A more structured conversation can also take place in a threaded discussion forum.

From a sheer functionality point of view, DBabble seems wide open and accommodates many ways to communicate. The challenge is bringing this functionality together in an interface that favors clarity over chaos. Here, NetWin is relatively but incompletely successful. Rolling so many forms of communication into a single interface leads to some blending that can result in confusion. We are not discounting, however, that this confusion would ease with familiarity through product usage.

DBabble has an organizational bias, which is to say it's primarily intended for an organization looking to centralize its communications needs. Especially useful in this regard is DBabble's capability to keep communication logs and to interact with other DBabble servers, allowing for a DBabble "cluster" distributed across several workplaces.

DBabble promises to unify many of an organization's communications needs. It meets that promise -- to a point. Further polish and improved support documentation will add luster to DBabble, but its core offering is available now, and it is sound and purposeful.

Pros: 7 Unifies several forms of network communication into a central server and client interface; 7 Quick to configure and deploy; 7 Modest resource demands

Cons: 7 Web-based interface is customizable but klunky in function; 7 Native client has improved ease-of-use but lacks customizability; 7 Users may take time to adjust to working with several different communication methods wrapped in a single interface; 7 Built-in instant messaging not accessible from third-party clients, such as those from AOL or MSN

New in v1.5b: Improved server performance allows a single server to support up to 10 million user databases and up to 10,000 online users on a single server; improved instant message handling allows users to have thousands of old instant messages each without degrading performance; more log files allow the administrator to optionally log all discussion messages, chat room messages, private conversations, and instant messages; support for specifying initial friends and user groups of new users when adding a large text file of them to the DBabble user database; variety of server and server side and Windows client bugs fixed; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 4

New in v1.5c: Bug fixes for bugs introduced in 1.5b to Solaris Sparc builds; fixed problem with server not working at all on some older OS versions; fixed problem with server occasionally crashing due to bus error; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 1

New in v1.5h: Users can receive copies of discussion group articles as instant messages; HTML links are highlighted and clickable in messages in Windows client and replied text is gray by default; chat room transcripts sent to users as instant messages after they leave a chat room session; users and user groups can be invited to enter chat rooms; multiple user groups and e-mail addresses can be instant message recipients; fixed bug that occurred when saving discussion group/chat room member information to disk; fixed bug that caused server crashes on startup after changing the hid (host - id) setting; blue template set javascript errors fixed; fixed problem with popup menus taking a few seconds to display when user has more than "friends"; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 3

New in v1.5n: Users can set systemwide hot keys for sending instant messages or for sending messages to specific friends; drag-and-drop support; adds an entry to the Windows "Send To" folder; customized icon support; can choose to be notified when specific users come online or go offline; server admin can modify default user preferences and permission groups from within Windows client; easier translation of single words to something else; sound playing support in Web browser for new messages; server installation now works on Win-95-based machines; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 2

New in v1.5t: Reformatted the Windows client preferences for easier use; notification of new e-mail can be sent through existing POP account; Web user preferences for how often to check with server for new instant messages and how often to refocus instant message window added; fixed bug introduced in 1.5h that caused the server to crash in some circumstances; fixed bug that caused Solaris-SPARC servers to crash when trying to connect to a master server; fixed bug with incoming e-mail messages; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 2

New in v1.5u: Fixed bug that occurred on Windows clients when running on machines with large fonts; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 1

New in v2.0b: Users can specify an existing ICQ account/password in their preferences to log in; added trash folder for instant messages so they are not deleted permanently, by default messages are now permanently deleted from trash after 7 days; users can send delayed messages and reminders to selves; all times/dates are displayed to users in their local time, and users can see what local time is for other users; user groups can contain e-mail address/phone numbers/icq users; can save drafts of messages of instant messages; support for attachments large than 10MB; instant messages are saved on the local disk drive for reading later without having to download them again; supports proxy servers that require authentication; users can override the default font and font size with whatever they want; preference to not make DBabble automatically try and connect to server after starting; many minor interface improvements and changes; various bug fixes; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 3

New in v2.0e: New Web template variables for total number of users, number of users online, number of groups, and the number of discussion group articles; can specify default DBabble.ini settings for the Windows client download that are available; server error log file has been split into warning.log and error.log; Web browser users can forward messages; new preference to place signature above original message when replying to messages; added preference to quote/not quote messages when forwarding them; can synchronize names in friends list with display names of users (default is off); can show delete, forward, and remind buttons when viewing instant messages; can override the default windows color scheme; can search within the text of a single message in for particular words; can right-click on hyperlinks in Windows client and choose to 'copy link location to clipboard' or 'open in new browser window' or 'open in existing browser window'; can make reminder messages into reminder messages that are periodically repeated; accepts different reminder time formats; preference for automatically checking subscribed group list for new items once a minute; subscribed group list tab caption now appears in bold if any subscribed groups contain new items; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 1

New in v2.1c: Adds an extra 'quick message' window to the Windows client for sending instant messages and seeing which friends are online; 'Reply to all' option now available on instant messages with more than one recipient; when using external authentication, there is support for setting the user's friends list, user groups, chat room, and discussion groups that they belong to; when users receive instant message or e-mail copies of articles posted to discussion groups, the article in the discussion group is automatically marked as read for that user; the user's list of subscribed groups in the Web browser is now sorted alphabetically; administrator users using windows client now have options to search for server settings, and search for default preferences; added a 'To Do' list that is saved on the server; add to friends button available; instant messages can now have multiple attachments with each message. small window displays user's friends list; can elect to play sound when anything is said in chat room and talk windows; fixed replying via e-mail to unsubscribe from subscribed discussion groups; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 3

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