Mobile Business Collaboration

From The New York Times: Cisco’s idea of a “‘collaboration tool’ for business people’ is a Cisco-produced tablet that runs WebEx. “This is a mobile video device for corporate users”.

Interesting, or historical footnote?

Sent from my iPad

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.


  1. Historical footnote.

    Thinking back at “back to the future” and pretty much any science fiction film from the past 20 years, video conferencing or more detailed video calls seems to be ubiquitous in every single one of them.

    Today I have a built in webcam in my laptop and accounts on both skype and msn which supports video conferencing. I have a 3G mobile phone which supports video calls (and most of my colleagues have similar and compatible equipment). Last but not least we have several video conference suits at my job.

    The last video call I made was to a friend recently moved some hours away. Just for the fun of it, we had coffee over video. It quickly became a one time thing. The last week I’ve had three phone conferences and spoken hours on the phone, in business. One of them was even via skype, where both had cameras available, but chose audio-only.

    Video conferencing doesn’t offer much by way over phone. Any device specifically for video conferencing is going to fail. It just isn’t necessary to see someone I already know.

  2. Excellent question, Andy: If artists and their audiences think it should be natural to video conference, why is it so rarely used today?

    I think there is an engineering consideration that partly answers this: It is very difficult to get right. In the movie fantasies, the technology just works. Cisco and HP telepresence systems achieve great results, but only at incredibly huge costs for specialized hardware and networks. Most implementations cannot handle heavy (e.g. shared) application use simultaneous to the video, or large numbers of participants. If Cisco’s tablet follow typical current implementations, the tablet will achieve poor results on beefed up Cisco networks, and be useless on networks commonly in place now.

    It is possible to do better, of course. The Croquet project and Teleplace Corp of this blog did not set out to be create a video conferencing, but rather to engineer a collaboration system using a few good tricks. ( I’ve written about Tea Time (, but I really owe folks a description of our overlay network, too.) As it turns out, we regularly support very high quality audio for meetings of several dozen people, in which people can simultaneously share multiple apps from their desktop, multiple apps on servers, and multiple Webcam feeds. With this available, what do people actually do?

    Honestly, I don’t know! We don’t monitor that. I have been in countless meetings and working collaborations settings. My informal perception is that when work is centered around work-product such as a spreadsheet, presentation, or other document, these tend to dominate. When the focus is on exploring concepts, people tend to classify and organize by moving text and pictures around (e.g., on a wall). Otherwise, for discussion, people do tend to use video, but typically only a few at time. (E.g., maybe five or so.) Even when not technologically limited, there is only so much one can concentrate on. In practice, a session tends to be a fluidly changing mix of these. (

    In that mix, we certainly don’t have Web feeds going all the time, and certainly not from everyone.

    So I think it tends to be the case that one needs to be able to see more than one thing at time — e.g., a few video feeds and a live interactive shared app or two, such as at ( Any one by itself — one feed, or one shared app — just isn’t enough. ( Having a 3D environment in which everyone can walk around and get their own viewpoint then becomes a way to intuitively manage what would otherwise be an overwhelming set of media choices.

    I think that if the Cisco tablet can deliver multiple live apps as well as multiple video through an office pipe (or 3G mobile?), and give users a way to manage that, then the tablet is a great form factor for doing so. I imagine it will be widely used if is really able to deliver on that, but I think you’re right that if it’s just a fixed video or fixed app at a time, then it may not really be worth it.

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