ConferenceRoom: Only the Serious Need Apply
WebMaster ConferenceRoom: A full-featured, professionally oriented messaging server system
When WebMaster released the second version of ConferenceRoom, it marked a significant change in the underlying architecture of the server. It was a substantial enough change that the release was not just a version upgrade but an major overhaul. With this upgrade came higher prices, but ConferenceRoom fits under the general rubric of 'you get what you pay for' by providing one of the most fully featured chat-message server systems for the price: $995 for the Professional Edition and $4,995 for the Enterprise Edition.
For this review, we tested the Professional Edition (up to 1,000 users); however, it should be noted that the Enterprise edition not only supports up to 10,000 users but also provides features not available in the Professional Edition, such as encrypted chat, and Auditoriums (max-sized chat groups).
ConferenceRoom ships with its own Web server (although others may be used), making it a very self contained package. This also helps simplify the installation process. In most cases, the install takes seconds, and follow-on configuration takes a few minutes (excluding user registration and setup). The Backpack add-on, which is distributed free, makes a nice touch and is easy to attach as a chat feature to a Web site. We gave this a try. Other than requiring a modicum of Web page savvy, it was a snap to install. We believe more time will be spent figuring out beneficial ways to use ConferenceRoom than in configuring and maintaining it. Given ConferenceRoom's all-in-one approach, it's a safe assumption that the product will probably be the most effective (and simple to operate) on a dedicated server.
All of the options in ConferenceRoom can be accessed through a Windows Services Manager utility or a Web browser. ConferenceRoom supports connections between servers (and in the Enterprise Edition, encrypted clusters). While there aren't many tuning controls, we found the performance of the multithreaded message server to be excellent and at least on a par with other servers handling similar loads.
ConferenceRoom has the key pieces necessary to take care of fundamentals: a choice of clients (HTML and Java, as well as any that is IRC-compliant), dynamic rooms and channels, member options (e.g., nicknames, profiles, and buddy lists), e-mail support, and unlimited concurrent rooms. Another important piece it offers are Channel Agents, which ConferenceRoom uses as automated channel operators to set and preserve the status of rooms, modes, settings, and room access.
A few years ago, chat or conference systems were most concerned with bandwidth and management issues. Today, the focus has largely shifted to security and control. ConferenceRoom has long had a good battery of features in this area: Word filtering, Kill User (Kline) support, password-protected rooms, SSL Web service, and spoof/flood protection to name a few. Several new features increase the amount of control over user privileges; for example, Channel Operators can be used to control how many users from a single IP can get into a channel (a good anti-DOS feature), and recently arriving users can be gagged for a set amount of time. The addition of LDAP support enables more sophisticated validation of users before they join a session.
Another area where ConferenceRoom excels is in the system monitoring and control its Scribe module provides. The module adds channel logging services, including the capability to log the complete text of a chat session to HTML.
ConferenceRoom has more than enough features to stimulate creative chat and conference applications; for example, Avatars are a graphic attached to users that can be customized for a wide variety of representation purposes. ConferenceRoom can be used to arrange "tours" of Web sites by sending users (or an entire channel) to a specific URL. ConferenceRoom also has a command set for sending news to users (e.g., NewsFlashes and ticker style).
Add scripting, language adaptability, themes, and color control to the feature list, and ConferenceRoom is one of the most flexible chat servers on the market. The customization capabilities in ConferenceRoom illustrate (and justify) one of the primary reasons to go to the expense and effort of incorporating chat or conference features into a Web site or corporate use of the Internet.
ConferenceRoom has earned its stripes to lead the group of professional chat and conference systems. Its performance, feature set, security, and manageability are complete and consistently well-done. It provides all the tools (and then some) to exploit the advantages of corporate chat -- at a price that correctly signals serious intent to use it.
Pros: Variety of operating system choices; highly customizable
Cons: As the price point indicates, this is not a product for frivolous purposes
Reviewed by: Nelson King
Original Review Date: 2/12/2004
Original Review Version: 2.1