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الموضوع: Web Conferencing Software Reviews

  1. #1
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    ( المقال مكتوب بلغة انجليزية سهلة ، و لا يحتاج للترجمة .. صح؟ )

    .....

    As with our tips on Choosing Web Conferencing Software, we offer this page in the hope that you will be able to gain from our experience with forum software. We excluded all programs from sites that do not publicly post software prices; that charge by the number of registered users or page views on your forum; that do not make a free demo available with free support for installation of the demo; that do not provide a trial forum at their own website using their software; that require too much information before they allow you to try their forum at their website; programs with a poorly designed interface, a required login that the sysop cannot override to allow unregistered participants to post messages, any program that downloads only one message at a time to the user, as well as all programs costing over $1,000. Our research included all the Unix and Windows NT/95/98 software with links on David Woolley's Conferencing On The Web homepage. Of the programs discussed below, we have installed and run Web Crossing, Discus and Discus Pro, the old (trial) version of Ultimate Bulletin Board, and WebBoard (not reviewed here due to the price, but mentioned briefly). We participate on forums running Web Crossing, WebBoard, Ultimate Bulletin Board, vBulletin; and a number of threaded message programs all of which we despise.

    When we wrote the first draft of this page about three years ago, the de facto standard for conferencing software was Matt Wright's threaded WWWBoard, a freeware Perl script. Things have changed radically in the past year with the soaring popularity of Ultimate Bulletin Board and all its linear-interface clones. Of all the new forums we've seen put online in the past year, not one has used a threaded interface, and recently the program of choice has become the UBB clone vBulletin.

    It's frankly astonishing to us that so many web conferencing programs are so poorly designed -- most download only one message at a time to the user -- and so over-priced. In fact, the results of this newest web conferencing software round-up are pretty disappointing. You will essentially be choosing "the best of a bad lot" when you make your decision. It doesn't speak well for this software genre that out of over 100 programs we examined there's only one we can just barely recommend, and it was written by a college junior. Esther Schindler has written an article on web-based discussion software that makes valuable reading, although the article is too short and approaches the issue from a reseller's point of view. Her Discussion Software: It Ain't No Party mirrors our own disappointment with the current crop of programs. The key to a well-run forum is good message management. Yet, most products lack even the most basic message management tools.

    We haven't been able to figure out why so many developers are married to the threaded rather than the linear model of interaction, when threaded messaging is so clearly unsuited to the Web, makes programs run slowly, and renders discussions unnecessarily difficult to read. Bill Machrone's PC Week column, Before the Discussions: Big Decisions, addresses the pros and cons of using a threaded versus a linear interface along with a few other considerations. We have yet to see any program with well-implemented threading. Listen closely: good message management obviates the need for a threaded message base.

    One issue that's recently become a hot topic for many potential customers is remote hosting. Some companies are now offering to host your forum on their server with their forum software. Is this a viable option for you? Our opinion is that it's a very questionable solution for all but the most timid webmaster managing the smallest of online communities. There are many capable forum products that you can install on your own server relatively painlessly, and thereby have complete control over your forum. Do you really want a third party to have access to your forum database and your users' e-mail addresses, or to sensitive information for which you might require a login or e-mail authentication? Some of these companies are finding it impossible to release timely updates of their product and provide adequate support to existing users. How reasonable is it to think they'll do a better job once they get into the hosting business and spread their limited resources even thinner? Then they'll not only need to support software but hardware. Once you have your site on their server, you're trapped with whatever they decide is an "improvement" to their service -- improvements you may not like. To say nothing of monthly fees and price increases. And for some of these sites, if you want to leave their service you either have to buy very expensive software or abandon your existing message base. Worse still, in some cases there IS no software alternative off their servers, so you're either stuck there or you lose all the messages on your forum. Our advice is to stay far, far away from remote hosting. We also advise you to be wary of companies offering both the options of remote hosting and "self-hosting," if we can invent a phrase. One major conferencing software developer recently abandoned their stand-alone software in favor of ONLY remote hosting forums on their own servers. More money in it for them if they can charge on a monthly basis, and provide more limited technical support. While they will still provide technical support for their earlier customers they are no longer selling or developing that software, making it an orphaned product. We suspect this is the start of a trend.

    Keep in mind before you make your final decision that, unless your forum is specifically geared towards a short-term conference or event, you should be taking the long view. It takes time to build a community. Whatever program you decide on, you may have to live with that decision for a long time.
    We don't recommend these, but...
    Several linear programs we're keeping an eye on are COW, vBulletin, WWWThreads, and DCForum2000. All are deficient in one area or another and will be reviewed if their products and websites improve. With InfoPop's decision to make the next major upgrade of Ultimate Bulletin Board a remotely-hosted-only solution, there is increased interest in the similar vBulletin, which includes a UBB conversion utility in case you want to port your existing UBB database to their product. vBulletin is a PHP-based program that uses a MySQL back-end database, making it much less of a resource hog than UBB -- something UBB users have been begging InfoPop to do with UBB for years. InfoPop, the owner of UBB, is so frightened of this product that they treat the name "vBulletin" the same way they treat a dirty word, and use of it on their own forum is blocked. Note that we have now seen a number of forums switch from UBB to vBulletin, and not one has been problem-free in terms of a perfect conversion of the original database. Don't disable your UBB until you have reviewed and tested your vBulletin installation!

    We recommend AGAINST...
    The Ultimate Bulletin Board for Windows 95/98/NT and Unix. The developers are abandoning the product in its current form and forcing users into a new remote-hosting model based on gaining more revenue. The current userbase is upset about the new InfoPop business model, but you won't be able to read much about this as discussions and messages critical of InfoPop are being removed from their bulletin board. In short: if InfoPop is no longer committed to active development of the product in an area of technology (the Web) that's changing so rapidly, UBB is dead. With so many UBB clones available now there's no reason to allow InfoPop to dictate your future. There's a very active group of vBulletin boosters, including a growing number of UBB refugees.

    Web Crossing
    We've had a real love/hate relationship with Web Crossing, the program we decided on for our Musical Instrument Makers Forum, for the 30 months since we st







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