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By Dr. Philip Baczewski, Director of Academic Computing and User Services
The idea of video conferencing has been around for a long time. We've been promised videophones since the 1960's and, so far, they as well as flying cars have yet to show up. Still, with the advent of the Internet, peer-to-peer video conferencing was reborn in the early 1990's with a program called "CU-See-Me" but we still didn't have flying cars. Maybe the third time is the charm and we'll really see some useful tools.
For a year or so, Apple has been selling an Internet camera they call the "iSight". It attaches to the Firewire data connection and can achieve as much as 30 frames per second (at least as good as TV). iSight works with Apple's iChat software to allow virtually instant video conferencing without any of the fuss or muss. Making video conferencing easier is important for its general adoption. Apple specializes in making things easy, but iSight's downfall is that it only works between Apple computers.
Other Internet video conference tools are popping up. A company called inSors supports a video conferencing solution which works from peer to peer or in a large conference room setting. Their solution uses a server to route the video traffic from place to place, but with the Internet and some relatively accessible hardware, you can achieve what was usually only possible with thousands of dollars of special equipment. InSors uses grid software technology to help make the connection to the end user. This innovative approach has the prospect of bringing the cost of video conferencing down and making video collaboration over the Internet a much easier task.
I have a feeling this is just the tip of the video conferencing iceberg. As we've seen in the past, simply inexpensive video does not seem useful. Video which is of fine enough quality to support communication with others may yet catch on. So, maybe inexpensive, but useful Internet video conferencing for all is just around the corner. Will it change the way we work or socialize? Only time will tell. In the mean time, let's talk about those flying cars.