Blaze Your Way to Flash-Based Communication

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted August 10, 2006


ChatBlazer: Cross-platform Flash-based chat system.

E-mail may still be considered the killer app of the Internet age, but live chat isn't far behind. Today, live network chats typically take the form of either private instant messaging (IM) or group chat rooms. IM is popular for one-to-one conversations, but chat rooms offer organizations more control over the kinds of discussions available, from private sessions between individuals to public, moderated conversations.

SolidSpace's ChatBlazer is a secure chat server designed to give organizations flexibility in how they deploy chat functionality. ChatBlazer is available as both a hosted solution and an installed server version. The hosted version shifts responsibility for software and hardware maintenance away from the subscribing organization in exchange for an ongoing cost. The installed version can be licensed and fully, locally managed by an organization that prefers to run the software from its own servers while having the flexibility to customize and integrate the software as much as it wants.

Unlike many other Web-based chat interfaces, ChatBlazer deploys a Flash-based client to end users. Unlike Java, the more common alternative for chat products, Flash is widely available to end users: It comes pre-installed on virtually all platforms. The Flash experience is consistent across platforms and, for many users, the experience is smoother and more responsive than Java-based applications.

On the server side, however, ChatBlazer requires the Java runtime environment (1.4 or newer). The server code itself runs in Java, as does ChatBlazer's GUI-based administration console. For Windows users, ChatBlazer is a 24 MB download that unpacks into 45 MB on disk. The Windows release includes a fully graphical installer and a Web server, although an administrator can opt to use another Web server if preferred.

The Linux/Unix distribution does not include a Web server, and its installation involves a series of command-line actions. Here, we hit a road bump when one of the Unix install scripts did not work out-of-the-box and needed some tweaking.

The Java-based graphical administrator can remotely or locally connect to a ChatBlazer server. A single server can host multiple chat "sites" depending on license limits. A single chat site can host an unlimited number of chat rooms. Each chat room can be configured along a variety of criteria. Rooms can be public and open to all members, or private and limited to specified member accounts or member groups. You can allow guests — clients who are not members — and spectators — clients who can watch a chat but cannot participate.

ChatBlazer encrypts chat content and can log all chats for future auditing. Chat rooms can be ruled by a moderator who can reject or allow messages before they appear in the room. Moderators can grant "talking" privileges to a single member, so only one person talks at a time. A simple profanity filter blacklist lets you define words to filter and offers associated consequences, such as banning a user who exceeds a profanity threshold.

ChatBlazer 7 introduces an open, XML-based chat protocol. Developers can then build chat clients compatible with the ChatBlazer server. Of course, ChatBlazer includes its own Flash-based client, which is easily integrated into Web pages. End users need only click a link on a page to launch the client. ChatBlazer's included client lets users send styled text, emoticons, audio, and graphics as well as share files. The sketchpad is a whiteboard-like feature where chat users can share real-time graphical scribblings. The client is certainly easy to use, but corporate environments may find its default theme and sound effects a bit cartoonish without custom modification.

Administrators can integrate ChatBlazer with popular SQL databases and LDAP servers. XML-based configuration files allow for extensive customization and, to some extent, Web site integration. SolidSpace has chosen an apt name for its chat server. With ChatBlazer, you can be up and running with a full-featured chat facility in a matter of minutes.

Pros: Fast to deploy; Flash-based chat client included; Highly customizable.
Cons: Unix installation is a little bumpy; Corporate environments may prefer more sober design and sounds.

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 08/10/2006
Original Review Version: 7.0.032

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