Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, February 7, 2003

Cost-effective Basic Online Virtual Classroom Facility

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from USD $ 89.95/month

Cata is a well rounded, stable and extremely easy to use web conferencing tool.

Cata has a simple administrative interface online which can be accessed through any normal web browser. From the admin control panel you can create meetings, invite participants and set other general preferences for classes, session or meetings you want to conduct online.

Once in a meeting, there can be only one moderator/presenter at a time, with the ability to control the following key facilities:
Application Sharing
Polling (yes/no answers or multiple choice)
PowerPoint Presentations
URL Sharing

A basic text chat facility is also available and it can be configured to work in the standard way or in a so-called "Q&A" mode where only the presenter can see the questions being submitted, but all participants see the answers provided back. The presenter can enable or disable this chat facility at will.

Application Sharing is very effective and reliable under Cata and it can be used for a great number of uses including co-surfing. There is also a handy feature under the Properties menu which allows the selection of the time interval between each screen "refresh" to all meeting participants. Even at its fastest setting (1") performance is more than acceptable even on dialup lines.

To activate Application Sharing, after having clicked on the App Sharing button, you select from a dialog box containing a list of the applications you have already opened, the one you want to share with your participants through Cata. This maybe a PowerPoint presentation which you want to deliver to your audience, a set of online Web pages, or even sections from Word or Excel documents.

The polling feature has a very simple and rudimentary interface allowing for yes/no and multiple choice answers but it is indeed useful and effective.

Cata has on the other hand no "Raise Hand" or Vote facility for the participants. This is useful when you need to ask all of the audience to respond globally on an issue, like: "How many of you have already ...?". The polling feature can come in handy just for this application as most any question can be rephrased in a way to entice a yes/no answer. Once participants have clicked on the appropriate choice you can immediately display a graph giving an immediate overview of how many said "yes" and how many said "no". Invaluably useful in most presentations and classes. Same facility for "Multiple Choice" questions where you can immediately show percentages of answers across the offered choices in an immediately displayable graph.

The PowerPoint Presentation facility of Cata makes life extremely easy for most non-technical trainers and presenters at some expense of the final quality displayed. Cata allows in fact the presenter to upload one or more .PPT files to the Cata server and it automatically and transparently converts this presentation slides in jpeg images which are much fast and ligh to present. You have no control though on the settings that determine the compression settings utilized in this conversion process. To complement this limitation Cata allows you to upload directly .jpg or .gif files as to offer you the ability to control the quality of your images and not be forced to depend on its automatic conversion facility. (The apparent problem with this "advanced option" is that you apparently have to load each slide independently and each one is treated as a separate presentation.)

This process though is very simple and straightforward and it can be a great time saver when you are in a rush to deliver an online presentation.

Once your presentation is up, you can recall any of your presentations previously uploaded simply by clicking on the Slides button. This brings up a list of presentations available, and as you select a specific one, a list of all the slides within that presentation is displayed in another small dialog box. This is quite useful as you can then access directly and with extreme ease any slide in the presentation.

I have noticed that by pre-viewing all of the slides in the presentation before the show, performance would be significantly enhanced during my online meeting when I accessed or recalled any of the presentation slides.

A great and well thought out feature that is integrated across most of Cata other functionalities are the annotation tools. These are made up of a small set of graphic tools displayed on an horizontal toolbar on the upper left part of the Cata interface. Through these annotation tools it is possible to highlight, draw circles, rectangles and use a large special pointer to draw attention and focus of participants to specific parts of your display.

The URL Sharing facility allows the presenter to send a selected web page to all meeting participants. After that each participant can engage directly with the web site and interact with it directly. This feature is particularly useful for allowing participants to fill out forms, explore independently, or to respond to a questionnaire or test.

During my tests I have seen that it may be difficult to notice participants need to have your attention as they have little or no means to do so. If you are completely taken by the excitement of your presentation you may easily overlook the small chat box and the attempts by participants to ask questions or to repeat a certain point.

Control of a meeting can be handed over by the presenter to anyone among the participants through a simple click of the mouse. Control can be regained by the moderator also in a very simple way.

What I liked the most in this tool was the simplicity of its use and the reliability of its tools.

Add to all this a particularly favourable pricing scheme providing for $ 89/month for unlimited meetings of up to 50 users, makes a Cata a very interesting proposition for those than can easily handle the audio portion of their presentation through an audio conferencing service of their choice.

For US and Canadian customers Cata has already developed strong partnerships with audio conferencing provides at very competitive rates. For international customers it is up to us to identify the best audio complement for this valuable service

The strength of Cata is in its simplicity and robustness.

N.B.: One of very few evident drawbacks, is Cata choice or inability to offer integrated audio facilities such VoIP. Though I understand the concern of web conferencing companies like Cata in adopting a solution that is yet to fully mature and that excludes those that do not have better than dial-up connections, I cannot vouch for solutions that do not even attempt to tackle the issue.

While I can see that most of Cata present client base is made up of corporate north American companies which can easily integrate an telephone-based audio conferencing service, what happens with us, stuck in any of the other 200+ nations?

The only other critique I may have with this product is that it requires me to disable my Java Plug-in in order to properly function. It likes the Microsoft Java Virtual Machine but not the Sun one. In this respect, the issue is more with your audiences and attendees and their need to take this configuration step before attending an online meeting delivered through Cata Virtual Meeting Rooms. Happily a System Test Wizard is available to test users systems before accessing any online meeting.

Cata Minimum system requirements:
Windows 98 or higher, Windows NT with SP4, or Windows 2000 with SP2
500 KB disk space
Pentium 200 MHz or faster processor
800x600 screen resolution (1024x768 highly recommended)
Internet connection minimum 56K modem
Java Virtual Machine minimum version 3158 or Java Runtime Engine minimum
version 1.4
Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 or later with the following
128-bit cipher strength
SSL v.3 enabled
Cookies enabled
Adobe Acrobat Reader 4.0 or higher for viewing User Guides


Cata 50
Accommodates 2 to 50 people...$89.95/month

Cata 100
Accommodates up to 100 people...$129.95/month

A free trial can be requested online at: products/request.htm

Learn how to create your own virtual classroom online.

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posted by Robin Good on Friday, February 7 2003, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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