With networked offices becoming the norm these days, groupware applications, such as multiuser calendaring, have turned into big business. Unfortunately, market leaders Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange have left Mac clients out of their network dance. Now Up-to-Date and Now Contact were a complete Mac solution, but suffered from years of neglect after Qualcomm acquired Now Software (new owner PowerOn Software promises an update by the end of 1999). The only company that has kept the faith is On Technology with Meeting Maker, which runs equally well on the Mac; Windows 95, 98, and NT; and Solaris. Meeting Maker 6 adds Palm synchronization capabilities and a Java client that can access your schedules through a Web browser. However, it still suffers from a drab interface.
Client-Server Without Tears
Meeting Maker’s server component, which handles an unlimited number of users, can run on all the supported platforms, with modest system requirements. Any Power Mac past the 7600 will do, and Windows servers can get by with a 486-based machine. Client requirements are even more minimal. On Technology claims that a Macintosh Plus or better will do the trick; however, we didn’t test any 680X0 clients.
Installing the Mac server with Mac and Windows clients was painless, taking less than an hour. However, migrating from Now Up-to-Date to Meeting Maker was considerably more difficult than the manual indicated. Meeting Maker’s Calendar Converter utility did not automatically recognize the Now Up-to-Date export file, and importing failed because Meeting Maker can’t handle the latter program’s open-ended events (those that have a start time but no end time). We had to delete the misunderstood items manually from the export file.
Once set up, Meeting Maker does an excellent job of proposing meetings, scheduling activities, and arbitrating among people’s schedules. Potential attendees can accept or decline meetings via messages sent over the LAN or through Internet e-mail. The program also supports Proxiesusers, such as a boss’s assistant, who can propose and accept meetings on behalf of others. One minor problem is that the program assumes all clients are in the same time zone as the server. If you are not, you’ll have to compensate for time zone differences when schedulingthe software won’t do it for you.
New in this version is the ability to synchronize with Palm handheld organizers. We had no problems synchronizing Meeting Maker data to a variety of Palm devices, but some Meeting Maker event attributes, such as location, have no equivalent in the Palm software, so naturally they don’t get synchronized. To use the synchronizing feature, you’ll also need Palm Desktop 2.0 or later.
Managing Large Crowds
Updating client software for hundreds of users can be a headache for network administrators, but Meeting Maker 6 makes it easy. After you have upgraded the server, the program installs new client software on client Macs or PCs whenever a user connects to the Meeting Maker server. You still have the option of posting client software to a file server for manual installation. This has the added benefit of preventing a flurry of network activity when users log on the morning after the server upgrade.
We ran Meeting Maker 6 on three Macintoshes, a PC running Windows 98, and another PC running Windows 95. To gauge the software’s performance in a large corporate setting, we also spoke with network administrators who were using Meeting Maker in configurations ranging from 70 to almost 1,000 users. Meeting Maker’s performance pleased them all, even on older hardware. For example, Apple Computer’s own installation features a Power Mac 8500/180 serving more than 700 Mac clients on AppleTalk and TCP/IP; the administrator believes the dedicated server is far from reaching its limits.
Meeting Maker 6 does a good job of scheduling, but its user interface is overdue for a face-lift.
Although On Technology has done a good job of adding new features and improving the software’s performance, the company needs to work on Meeting Maker’s tired-looking user interface, which seems barely changed since we last reviewed this program in 1995. Of the different platforms’ client interfaces, the most attractive is the Java client for use in Web browsers.
Meeting Maker clients come in packs of 10, 50, and 100 users, which you can mix and match among platforms as you wish. Clients cost between $85 and $95 each, depending on volume, with discounts for educational, nonprofit, and government organizations.