Cooltalk 1.0 Beta 5:
Netscape's CoolTalk isn't Ready to Communicate
By Jon Kaufthal (7/26/96)
Although the concept for CoolTalk, Netscape Communications’ Internet collaboration tool, acquired with its purchase of InSoft, is brilliant, the execution is less than ideal. The release we reviewed, Version 0.9.031, beta 5 (also known as Version 1.0), does give you a peek at an interesting new technology. For solid, reliable conferencing over the Net, however, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
CoolTalk’s installation process is easy enough. CoolTalk is usually downloaded as a component of the Netscape Navigator 3.0 beta and installed at the same time as is Navigator. (CoolTalk is also available separately, via Netscape’s FTP site (http://ftp.netscape.com).) A wizard guides you through the installation process, giving voice prompts to ensure proper configuration of the sound card.
Once the program is installed, you are asked to fill out a "business card," which can provide as much or as little personal information as you desire--you can even include a small photo. The contents of this card are transmitted whenever a conference is begun.
CoolTalk provides three major collaboration tools that can be used together or independently. Voice conferencing, the predominant tool, allows you to have a two-way voice conversation over the Internet. CoolTalk’s watchdog, a TSR that can be optionally loaded when Windows is started up, allows others to start a conversation with you any time you’re online--even when the CoolTalk program is not loaded. And CoolTalk’s answering machine can even take voice messages when you’re away from the screen. For voice chat, sound quality varies with the speed of your connection but is generally quite good. Graphical sliders control background-noise filtering, making it easier to chat in noisy environments. Unfortunately, all of these features are limited by the fact that CoolTalk makes it is impossible for you to speak with more than one person at once.
In addition to voice chat, CoolTalk provides a bare-bones tool for text-based chat, useful for those with computers lacking full multimedia capabilities. The program also provides a whiteboard tool, similar in look and feel to Microsoft Paint. Images can be edited jointly, and changes made by either user are seen almost immediately on both screens. This application is the only collaborative application supported by CoolTalk; text documents and the like cannot be edited on-screen.
One major drawback of CoolTalk is the difficulty you may encounter in trying to find the person for whom you’re searching. Netscape’s CoolTalk server (http://live.netscape.com) provides a list of CoolTalk users currently available for chat. Clicking on a name automatically initiates a conference with that person. This sounds simple enough, but unfortunately, the server works sporadically at best, failing more often than not to produce a list of users. A built-in address book allows you to store friends’ addresses, but these are useless if your friends’ IP addresses change each time they connect, as is usually the case with dial-in connections. The list also fails to provide information on which users are presently logged on.
CoolTalk is still very much a beta product. If several necessary design improvements are made in the software, and if the server becomes far more reliable, CoolTalk has great potential. For the time being, though, you’re better off with tools like VocalTec’s Internet Phone or the more robust Microsoft NetMeeting.
CoolTalk, Version 1.0, beta 5.
Netscape Communications Corp;
Copyright (c) 1996 Ziff-Davis Publishing Company
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