It didn't take me long to go back to the press release and read a little more carefully. Here is the important section:
WebMC started as a demo application to showcase ICEfaces and specifically Ajax Push capabilities. ICEsoft pioneered Ajax Push with its ICEfaces solution, which allows presentation changes to be asynchronously pushed from the application server to the browser client...
"By turning WebMC over to the community, we hope that the application will evolve rapidly," adds Ted Goddard, Senior Architect for ICEfaces. "The initial release of Web MC is just a starting point in terms of features and functionality. As the community embraces it, I expect that developers will quickly integrate WebMC with Internet audio conferencing, multimedia formats, and shared whiteboard capability."
That explains a lot and I can comment more fairly on the initial implementation of WebMC. They are right -- it really is just a bare bones framework for web conferencing that is interesting more as a demo than a fully useful application. To share a PowerPoint slide presentation, you use PowerPoint's internal functionality to save your slides into a folder as a collection of individual image files. You can choose to use JPG, GIF, or PNG as your image type. You then use Winzip to collect all the slide images into a single zip file. Now you can log on as a moderator and create a new presentation name. You upload the zip file and your slides are ready for viewing by others through their browser.
As a moderator, you can set a password for accessing your presentation and set a limit on the maximum number of participants (from 5 to 20).
You can also choose to let your slides automatically cycle in a slideshow mode with a configurable delay (2 to 7 seconds, constant for all slides in the presentation).
Or you can step forward or backward one slide at a time. You can also jump to a slide by typing in its number, but there is no outline or thumbnail listing of slides.
Your viewers log in on their browser (IE, Firefox, Netscape, or Safari) and choose the presentation name from a drop-down list on the main page. The list shows all presentations currently being hosted, in no discernable order. It also looked like two different people can give their presentations the same name, which causes confusion when trying to select the right one for viewing (On further testing, the program warns you if the names are exactly the same, but allows the same letters if capitalization is different. It can be hard to ensure that your viewers select "Test" instead of "test").
Participants can use a text chat feature to communicate inside the presentation room. Each person can save the chat log to disk or email it to themselves. The chat window also shows status messages about who is joining and leaving and certain actions the moderator takes.
I found the uploaded display quality on my test images to be pretty poor. They were scaled down from the source image files that PowerPoint created and they suffered in legibility. You can't change the size of the slide display inside WebMC.
I tried saving the presentation in all three graphics formats and I ran into some strange behaviors while trying to do multiple uploads. Eventually the WebMC interface locked up and I couldn't get it to restart, although other applications and pages in my browser continued to work just fine. Closing the browser and then restarting everything from scratch seemed to fix the problem.
I did a quick test between two computers to test the update speed between advancing a slide and having it show up on the receiving end. This is what ICEsoft's technology is built to accomplish and is the real purpose for building the demo application. And I'm happy to report that this functionality shined. From hitting the advance slide button or send chat message to having it appear on the viewing end was nearly instantaneous. What I don't know is whether performance may suffer either with more people viewing a single presentation or with a large overall load on the ICEsoft servers from many different presentations.
Once the moderator logs off, the presentation is removed from the viewing availability list and the slides are not saved in a permanent room.
WebMC falls into the same general category as teamslide. Back in September I talked about the usefulness of a simplified real-time slide sharing application accessible without setup inside a browser. I also predicted that such an application was going to turn into a free giveaway. ICEsoft looks to have the browser to browser synchronized update mechanism implemented in a nice fashion. I hope some of the open source jockeys out there decide to pick this up and start rounding out the features to improve the web conferencing functionality and usability. In the meantime, I'll count it as a work in progress showing the potential for cheap 'n easy web collaboration.