Management

MCAD Tech News #109

6 Nov, 2003 By: Joe Greco


Back in 1999, CoCreate became one of the first companies to offer a collaborative solution for engineers and designers when it launched OneSpace. Since then, it broke away from its original parent company, Hewlett Packard, and the product evolved and is now called OneSpace.net. I had the chance to evaluate the new 2004 version over the past few weeks.

Getting Started

My introduction to OneSpace.net started with an e-mail invitation to join a OneSpace.net meeting from another user, who in this case happened to be the CoCreate product manager. The e-mail noted that the requirements for running OneSpace.net are Windows 2000 SP3 (or Windows XP SP1) and Internet Explorer version 5.5 or greater. Because I had Windows 2000 SP2, my first step was to upgrade my operating system. The e-mail invitation also contained both a link and an attachment. I didn’t have OneSpace.net, so I used the link to download the components I needed, which were about 7MB. The attachment is used when the software is already installed. Simply open the attachment—no need to download it to disk—and it automatically takes you to a screen asking for login name and password.

By inviting me to a meeting, the product manager was essentially allowing me to borrow one of his free licenses for temporary use. Another option is to grant a license for an extended period of use. With these two methods, you can invite users into an area called the Project Workspace in an ad hoc or a prescheduled manner.

Project Workspace

After I logged in, the Project Workspace screen, new in version 2004, came up showing a Web page titled My Home Page. This is a page unique to each user that was automatically set up for me once I was invited to the meeting. This page is easy to navigate because of its simple user interface and minimal options. Here, with little guidance from the CoCreate product manager, I set up a new project and decided who I wanted to invite in.

figure
Figure 1. Each OneSpace.net users sees a custom Project Workspace.

 After you add a user to the project, OneSpace.net displays a preview of a precomposed e-mail that will be sent to that person. The subject head reads, “You have been added to the (project name) project in OneSpace.net.” The body contains information regarding the participant’s role--Project Manager, Team Member, or Guest--along with all the information needed to join the project (the attachment and link discussed earlier).

The Project Workspace also shows all the projects that you either created or were invited to. Clicking on any one shows the details of the project neatly stored in a browser-style interface at the left side of the display. This information includes who is on the project team, what discussions have taken place, and which files--from Microsoft Office documents to CAD models--belong to the project.

From the Project Workspace screen there is also a link to CoCreate’s Meeting Center. This area also houses a browser that shows who is available, busy, and offline. This not only makes it easy to send information to team members, but also gives an idea which one of OneSpace’s many communication methods would be best. For instance, if a person is available, an instant message or chat (which is similar to IM, but get recorded in a report – more on this later) may be best, but these techniques won’t work for those offline. Communication via e-mail, or using an application called Model Explorer, or a new way that is perhaps the most interesting--application sharing--is also possible. Let’s discuss these last two options in detail.

Model Explorer

The base OneSpace.net package comes with a variety of neutral translators for STEP, IGES, and other formats. These files can be imported into the OneSpace Model Explorer, where you can edit a copy of the model using CoCreate’s direct modeling tools – the same ones found in its OneSpace Designer CAD product. These edits include adding fillets, moving faces, and so on. A 3D note is automatically attached to any changes made to the model, and these notes are saved in a PDF report that recipients can use to understand the changes made in order to reapply them to their model. A translation package, available for $2,495 extra or $60 per month per user, allows native formats such as SolidWorks, CATIA, Pro/ENGINEER, Unigraphics, and I-DEAS to be read into the Model Explorer.

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Figure 2. Model Explorer provides tools to edit imported models.

This method of collaboration is best when designers and engineers use different modeling programs and also when the two users are located in remote time zones, because of the effective way users can move changes along. Application Sharing Simply right-click on a user’s name in the Meeting Center and select Meet Now to send a message to that user. Once the user joins the meeting, you can share any application on your computer, or your entire desktop. This means, for instance, if a design change in a SolidWorks file in turn affects the plastic flow analysis done in Moldflow Part Advisor, the design team can share those applications and discuss the changes, without any need for file conversions. This application-sharing system works well, especially for the user who is sharing the applications, because that person can make changes to the actual file while others in the session watch. However, there are a few caveats. One is that though markups by others are possible, they can be added only to a screen shot created via a menu command that’s a little hard to find. Once you capture the desired image, you use a Paint-type application to create the markups.

Everyone’s comments are automatically recorded in different colors. This would work a lot better if markups could be made directly to the program being shared, perhaps as an overlay. In addition, if a group of users are commenting on a screen shot and another user happens to create a new screen shot, it replaces the current one, without a warning, and all notes on the original image are lost. Despite these problems, the Meeting Center does effectively capture meeting issues, decisions, markups, and tasks into a single PDF file that can be easily shared with other team members.

A second problem I had with OneSpace.net’s application sharing is that when a user who joined the meeting needs to share his or her desktop or particular application, the user currently sharing has to stop sharing while the other user initiates a sharing session. This, combined with the aforementioned awkwardness in creating markups, causes a few bumps in what is otherwise a fairly smooth collaboration workflow. One of the reasons why application sharing works well is because it allows any user to join the collaboration session using the programs they are familiar with, whether they are electrical engineers using an ECAD program or a procurement person using an ordering system.

Using Familiar Applications

One application that OneSpace.net is tightly integrated with is a program that many people use – Outlook. Not only is it used to send the e-mails that invite others into meetings, but Outlook Scheduler is key in scheduling tasks, because as soon as a task is set up in the Meeting Center, that information is transferred to Outlook. This is useful. For example, if a project manager wishes to assign a task to a certain team member, they could first check that person’s schedule to see if the days required to perform that task are available.

Versioning is an important aspect of any project, and OneSpace.net offers it. I uploaded a new version of a file that was listed in my Project Workspace, and the software asked if I wanted to overwrite the old version or create a new version. I picked “new version” and then had the opportunity to type in reasons why this file was different. Then the new version showed up in the Project Files listing, and team members also received an e-mail notifying them of the change, with my comments and a link go to the folder where the change had occurred.

Bottom line

Overall, I was very impressed during my trial run of OneSpace.net. I was able to figure out many of commands without any help, and when I did need help, useful tutorials featured quick (most are about three minutes) animated walk-throughs with comments on various key areas of the program. The product handles just about every form of collaboration imaginable, from simple chatting to advanced application sharing, all in a secure, organized environment.

Over the years, prices have dropped a lot as well. An installed license now costs only $995, which includes access to the Project Workspace, Meeting Center, and Model Explorer. Support is $125 each year per user, but it doesn’t include upgrades, which are 50% of the $995. As an alternative, users can pay $120 per license per month (upgrades and support included), which also works well if a user, such as a supplier, needs to be part of a project for only few months. For more information, go to http://www.onespace.net and also look into CoCreate’s seven-day free trial.


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