Screen-Sharing: One-Click Solution Lets Anyone Screen-Share Instantly From Any OS - LiveLOOK
Want to share your screen instantly to somebody else, no matter what computer you or him are using? Now you can: a new real-time screen-sharing solution allows anyone to live share the contents of his screen with anyone else.
No software to download, no setup or configuration, no commands or menus to learn, no buttons to press.
One-click screen-sharing, just like the one recently invoked by Jon Udell, is indeed coming of age.
LiveLOOK, which launches today, is a breakthrough solution for conferencing, online collaboration and information sharing that challenges competitors large and small on two key areas: speed to access and ease of use.
For the first time, a tool allows even Mac and Linux users, to instantly share the contents of their screen to anyone without needing to download, setup or learn anything at all.
All they really need is just a number.
Here the details:
Photo credit: Yanik Chauvin
The need for a simple, one-click screen-sharing solution
LiveLOOK really is a breakthrough online collaboration tool for one click screen-sharing that has some very unique, distinctive traits.
It is perhaps the perfect answer to Infoworld Lead Analyst Jon Udell's recent complaint that too many screen-sharing solutions are needlessly complicated, that we replied to a few weeks ago with our article on simple stripped-down, single-use screen-sharing services.
It does this by providing a truly one-click screen-sharing solution that fulfills a unique need in an otherwise over-populated marketplace.
So what is it that sets LiveLOOK apart from the wealth of competitors to satisfy your screen-sharing needs?
For starters, LiveLOOK distinguishes itself by offering a truly cross-platform screen-sharing solution. Anyone that has explored the market in any depth will come across a serious dearth of decent screen-sharing tools for those using the Mac or Linux platforms. The vast majority of screen-sharing tools offer Windows-only support, or at best Windows-only support for the presenter, with guests allowed from other operating systems.
Market leader services such as GoToMeeting and Glance demand that a Windows machine be at least part of your screen-sharing solution. With LiveLOOK it is possible to both share your screen, and view others screens, regardless of your operating system. That is, in itself, highly commendable.
By taking a browser-based approach to screen-sharing and offering the ability to share your screen from any browser, on any computer, LiveLOOK promises total interoperability, and that is a rare thing in the market at this point.
Works right out of the box
As LiveLOOK is totally browser-based, it works right out of the box. There is no formal installation process to sit through, meaning that you can have access to another person's screen, or broadcast your own, in a matter of seconds.
This is screen-sharing stripped down to the bones. There are no menus, commands, switches or settings - in fact, the only choice you will be asked to make is between its two resolution options: Low Resolution/Hi Speed and Hi Resolution/Low Speed.
In fact, if it's a raft of presentation tools and a highly developed feature set you're looking for, you came to the wrong place. On the other hand if, like Jon Udell, you are looking for simplicity and single-minded, hassle-free functionality, LiveLOOK has a lot to offer.
With even the most streamlined of screen-sharing applications the process of setting up a screen-sharing session is likely to take in the region of a couple of minutes, in my experience. Take the simple but feature-rich GoToMeeting as an example. The presenter sends out an invitation URL to the viewer(s), who then accept the invitation, give permission for a small applet to be downloaded to their system, wait for this to download to their system, and then connect to the host. If they in turn want to show their screens, the original presenter (based on Windows) has then to hand over control to them.
In many cases this is not such a problem, but there are situations where the ability to quickly and efficiently share on-screen information can be of paramount importance.
LiveLOOK whittles the entire process down to under thirty seconds.
The person wishing to share her screen, simply clicks on a "Share My Screen" button, and within a few seconds is presented with a multi-digit code that is the key to access the screen sharing session from any other browser. Invitees in fact, need only to go to the LiveLook home page, input the code in the appropriate box and wait a few seconds to be transported near-instantaneously to the just initiated screen-sharing session.
LiveLOOK - Video Introduction
In this brief video introduction, Executive Editor Michael Pick will actually walk you through the simple process of sharing your screen while using LiveLOOK.
A different screen-sharing paradigm
LiveLOOK is grounded in this speedy, simplified, highly-focused and efficient approach to screen-sharing leaving behind more popular approaches that tend to integrate as many conferencing and collaboration features that a multimedia presenter might call upon to use.
Like Glance, who first premiered this highly focused and simplified approach, LiveLOOK concerns itself with facilitating users with their screen-sharing needs without intruding in their experience with buttons, commands and menus but with an interface that is best described as non-existent.
LiveLOOK interprets the screen-sharing paradigm in a new way, focusing for the first time, on a specific scenario-application that has not yet been addressed by vendors in this industry. LiveLOOK, sees in fact the "one-time" screen-sharing user, needing to rapidly share the view of his screen and actions to a remote advisor to be a highly competitive area left so far untouched.
This scenario is well represented by an online customer, accessing an e-commerce web site and needing direct and immediate assistance.
Imagine a situation in which somebody accessing an online service needs help, and the easiest way of facilitating the provisioning of that help is for person in need of support to be able to show his screen and actions to a remote expert. Anyone that has ever called a tech-support number and tried to explain what's happening on-screen will easily sympathize with this very real need.
Now imagine trying to achieve this solution using the feature-packed screen-sharing solutions currently dominating the marketplace.
What an end-user wants is a quick solution to their problem, and faced with the lengthy and slightly technical process of downloading, installing and configuring an application so that they can share their screen, they are likely to become discouraged and frustrated within minutes from their trying to resolve the issue in this fashion.
But the solution presented by LiveLOOK, instantly solves this situation, providing a truly breakthrough facility to the world of live, online real-time customer support.
Imagine then that this imaginary web site user is going through the usual route of requesting on-site help and being provided with tools to text chat, or voice communicate with an on-site customer-service representative. Wouldn't a one-click end-user enabled screen-sharing solution open a universe of new possibilities?
And indeed with LiveLOOK, the customer service rep needs only to ask the end-user to click on the Show My Screen button (which can be easily embedded into the side column of any site or even within the very customer support text chat dialog box) and within seconds the end user screen will be shown live to the company representative trying to provide help.
The simplicity and immediacy of LiveLOOK provide in this scenario a unique advantage, and one that until now you could only get around with imperfect, slow and cumbersome solutions.
LiveLOOK has made it super easy for both the end-user and the site owner to use its facility.
As a site owner, installing the Show My Screen button is as simple as copying and pasting a tiny bit of code into your web page where you'd like the LiveLOOK button to appear.
As a user, it's even simpler: you just have to click that button, and LiveLOOK deals with the rest.
In fact you can test it right now and see for yourself how effective this is. Just click the LiveLook button here below and you are ready to go:
If that is somewhat too difficult you can even make it easier by sending the person that wants to show you her screen to www.livelook.net and requesting her to click on the button that looks like this one:
This opens a simple dialogue that gives the user a unique number. Once that number is passed out anyone that knows it can come and watch that user's screen live.
In fact, as I have explained before, anyone who wants to view that user screen, needs only to tap that number into the easily identifiable box on the LiveLOOk website labeled "See a screen", and within seconds she will be looking at the presenter's screen in real-time (latency withstanding).
Furthermore, you can send these one-click invitations via email. If your email client supports HTML - Outlook Express does, Apple Mail doesn't - you can grab the widget by going to http://www.livelook.net/LLB.htm", copying the widget you find there as you would a line of text, and dropping it straight into your email. This gives you yet another way to simply and quickly let a client show you there screen, with one click straight from an email you've sent them.
The business model
LiveLOOK, which launches today in beta, can be tried for free until December 31st, 2006.
Three price-plans are planned for the future:
- A Free P2P version that will allow you to install and use LiveLOOK using your own computer and bandwidth, rather than those of the LiveLOOK service. In a P2P fashion you will be able to show your screen with anyone out there with technical limitations dictated by the limitations of your own set up.
- A consumer edition with a one-time low fixed fee to pay, followed by a few cents per minute of use of the service. This will run at the low resolution-hi speed setting.
- An business edition which will offer the high-resolution / low-speed alternative with a slightly higher per-minute charge for the use of the service.
LiveLOOK claims that, using their standard, paid edition (not the P2P one) it is possible for up to 200 concurrent users to view a given screen at any one time. As there were performance issues in our test of the service, this is certainly a claim we would be slightly skeptical about, although these issues may be resolved as the service comes out of its beta release.
Technically, LiveLOOK utilizes a Java applet leveraging the fact that most computer and operating systems come today with Java-enabled browsers.
The first-time around you need in fact to grant permission to the near-instantaneous download of a mini Java applet for LiveLOOK to be able to run properly.
LiveLOOK can also operate on non-Java browsers as it is able to auto-switch from Java to an HTML-mode which fully guarantees the same level of functionality with some small performance penalty.
Areas for improvement
LiveLOOK is undoubtedly a breakthrough tool that is set to make a useful niche for itself in the crowded screen-sharing market.
Nevertheless, there are some areas in need of improvement if it is to truly live up to its excellent potential.
In my opinion these are:
While nonetheless quite acceptable for people connecting from high-speed Internet connections, performance may be disappointing for those with less than premium ADSL-like connectivity. Even with a fast connection, performance seems to lag slightly behind that of LiveLOOK's competitors, and this is definitely something that should be addressed.
It is also true, on the other hand, that new users will be unlikely to be comparing this service with its competitors, due its different focus and function.
Summary: In relative terms, performance is not on par with top players, but for the limited area of application it will most likely be used within, performance is certainly acceptable.
LiveLOOK makes use of a set of algorithms and compression tools that analyze the image or text being displayed and apply a two-level compression depending upon their complexity.
Example of compression artifacts in high-resolution mode
The results of these tools seem to be producing mixed results at the time of writing. In the LiveLOOK demo it is possible to switch between a high-resolution, lower speed display - which seems to display roughly 8-bit colour depth, but with a speed penalty on performance - and a low-resolution, higher speed display - which seems closer to a 16 colour, 4-bit quality with a somewhat snappier performance.
In testing the service though, there didn't seem to be enough of an improvement in overall picture quality between the two modes.
Though perfectly usable, the lower resolution mode is, however, beyond what most end-users will find acceptable due to the many color artifacts it creates. For this reason I have recommended LiveLOOK to set its default mode to the high-resolution setting.
When viewing a remote screen being shared via LiveLOOK, the topmost part of the screen is dominated by a screen-wide 20-pixel-tall banner that seems to offer no real function at all, beyond reminding the access code for the session and offering a "disconnect" button. If you consider that we already have the top part of the browser, with its navigation and tool bars taking up valuable space, taking away further precious space from an area, which should be maximized for viewing as much as possible of the other user screen (auto-scaling is not yet enabled but should be coming very soon) this results in being a bit too intrusive for a tool that wants to do away with the interface and be the king of simplicity.
Losing almost 30% of your screen to useless navigational or informational elements, which are certainly not needed at all times, is one of the few weak points of this otherwise surprisingly simple and effective tool. This is something that the programmers behind LiveLOOK might want to consider in improving a service that has a lot of strong potential in the field.
Following a trend of several other screen-sharing applications, LiveLOOK has decided to modify the presenter's cursor to a 3D-looking green arrow, so that it would be theoretically easies to distinguish the remote user' cursor from your own. But from a usability standpoint this is an increasingly common and problematic mistake. If you remove the ability for your computer to display its "original" cursor, you fall into the trap of not being able to present information that the cursor may be able to communicate under specific circumstances to the end user. For example, many applications use a range of cursors in their work-flow, and these cursors can provide vital clues to the end-user. If you were, for example, demonstrating a procedure in Photoshop the inability to show that you were using a given tool by its graphic representation of the cursor will curtail effective communication of what you are doing on screen.
As such, if a service chooses to include this potentially useful ability to differentiate the cursor, it should nevertheless be optional. By removing the option, you are automatically reducing the functionality of your product.
The use of a per-minute payment model is likely to appeal to larger companies who wish to keep tight control over their usage and expenditures, but will certainly prove off-putting to professional users and SOHO businesses. Having to worry about how much time you are spending on a given task is not conducive to a smooth workflow, and time-based payments have never proven to be popular with this key market sector.
I would strongly encourage LiveLOOK to consider offering a flat fee solution based on monthly or annual payments, as their nearest competitors do. There is good reason why per-minute charges are not popular among existing screen-sharing solutions, and the reason is that they are simply not popular with end-users.
On the other hand I do acknowledge that LiveLOOK intends to focus its marketing to medium and large-sized companies who provide on-line services, e-commerce and other interactive services, which, in turn, may greatly benefit from the extra ability to provide effective customer support via this new breakthrough screen-sharing solution.
Breaking new ground
LiveLOOK is offers a groundbreaking screen-sharing solution that looks poised to carve out a highly successful niche for itself in the customer support marketplace. Focusing its attention on the world of e-commerce and on other business scenarios in which the ability to instantly view a customer screen can make a difference is poised to give this tool high chances of success.
While there is room for improvement in some key areas and the service is still in its beta phase, most of the refinements I suggested above could easily be implemented before LiveLOOK goes live at the start of 2007. Improvements already on the way include the addition of SSL security encryption in time for the new year release.
It is safe to say that nobody is currently supplying the service that LiveLOOK is offering.
While LiveLOOK may not be the perfect solution for conference presenters or public presentations to large online audiences, LiveLOOK shows its unique strengths when utilized to enable quick, one-time cross-platform screen-sharing sessions between customers and service providers, in the easiest, simplest and speediest way possible.
Operating System: Windows, Mac OSX, GNU/Linux-based OS
Browser Support: All browsers claimed to be supported. At the time of testing there were issues with Firefox 2.0 for the mac (no visible screen at the viewers end)
If you are interested in LiveLOOK, you may want to:
- Sign Up for their free trial
- Take a closer look at their business solutions
- Read more about the company behind LiveLOOK
- Weigh up LiveLOOK against its opposition using our Kolabora Screen-sharing mini-guide
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