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Scaling the Tower of DBabble

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NetWin DBabble: Chat server with secure discussion and IM.

Can DBabble juggle the “chatter” that makes up real-time messaging?

Internet messaging (IM) is divided into two main server categories: E-mail servers that may include related groupware functionality (like shared tasks and calendaring) and chat servers that support real-time communications (like IM and other forms of individual or group discussion). NetWin’s DBabble has been evolving in the market for six years and, as its name implies, it aims to juggle the “chatter” that makes up real-time messaging.

Although IM has the reputation of being a social tool, and DBabble can certainly be used in that context, DBabble was designed with enterprise and organizational uses in mind. Increasingly, businesses have adopted IM for internal communications and collaboration. Beyond the cubicle, more businesses are employing IM-type solutions in their customer-facing Web sites to provide instant communication between sales or support staff and Web site visitors.

The DBabble server for Windows is a 6MB download. It installs initially into a modest 15MB footprint. DBabble runs on a wide variety of other platforms, including the Mac, Linux and Unix. Under Windows, the graphical install process is a matter of just a few clicks. The installer launches the Web-based administration interface through which DBabble is configured.

This Web-based administration complements DBabble’s platform-agnostic design — not only can the server run on any popular platform, but it can also be administered from any Web browser. The design of the DBabble admin interface, however, is utilitarian at best. Its GUI consists simply of an index of pages, each a laundry list of configuration options. There are no task-based wizards or other streamlined configuration processes. This is pure needle-in-a-haystack administration. For the administrator who knows precisely what he’s doing and where to find what he needs, however, this might actually be a plus. This is purely needle-in-a-haystack administration, which might be a plus for the administrator who knows precisely what they’re doing and where to find what they’re looking for. For the advanced administrator, user groups, forums, and chat rooms can be created directly from a text file.

DBabble users participate in chats through either a Web-based interface or the local DBabble client, which is available only for Windows. Although the local client could be useful for corporate intranets, organizations supporting cross-platform users or providing Web-based sales and support will likely rely on DBabble’s Web chat interface. The good news is that although both chat interfaces are plain-vanilla by default, they are completely customizable to match an organization’s desired look and feel.

Both the local and Web-based chat clients support SSL, so communication is encrypted. Because DBabble includes a built-in proxy server, chat clients outside the firewall can hold chats with allowed outside parties.

Because DBabble runs on many platforms, it supports a wide range of user authentications. Besides its own internal auth scheme, DBabble can authenticate users via POP server, Unix passwords, MySQL, LDAP, or custom modules.

Although DBabble chat users can also communicate with parties on other popular IM networks, including ICQ, MSN, Yahoo, and AIM, DBabble offers messaging integrity. In other words, DBabble verifies receipt of messages before declaring them sent, so both parties know no messages have been lost in transit.

Although IM is typically used in a one-to-one scenarios, DBabble administrators or privileged users can create public or private chat groups. Messages can be sent to entire groups, and the Web-based client lets users participate not only from PCs but also from mobile phones. Private chat groups can be secured with SSL encryption and digital signing, preventing someone from impersonating another user and thus ensuring identity integrity.

In a novel twist, DBabble can also deliver chat group messages as NNTP-based newsgroups, allowing participants to chat in real-time or through an NNTP client.

Full chat archiving, along with 17 kinds of log files, enables organizations to comply with laws requiring electronic records for business communications.

Under DBabble’s simple and straightforward licensing scheme, the $485 price includes unlimited chat users and 12 months of e-mail support and updates. Likewise, the Windows-based chat client is free for an unlimited number of users.

Alternatively, NetWin also offers the option for organizations to buy DBabble’s source code for their own internal use, at a price of $10,000 for both the server and Windows chat client, or $5,000 for only the Windows client.

Pros: Quick to deploy Web-based IM; Highly customizable; Multiplatform support; Simple and affordable licensing.
Cons: Administration for experts; Local chat client for Windows only; Dull default interface makes customization a virtual necessity.

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 12/27/2006
Original Review Version: 2.9g

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