Share And Share Online

No sooner had Hewlett-Packard Co.'s OmniShare, an interactive document-conferencing product, won a gold design award than bad news came. Pascal Baudot, the Grenoble, France-based designer, got a call from HP headquarters: After eight months on the market, the machine would be discontinued on June 1. The reason? Poor sales. OmniShare's price tag--$1,500 after steep discounts--apparently turned off customers. It was an example of price defeating design excellence.

Current alternatives to the problem of hashing over documents with far-flung clients are pretty clunky. You can try to describe changes over the phone or trade an endless stream of faxes. Personal-computer software programs such as Intel ProShare and Lotus Notes allow documents to be shared on each person's screen, but they can be clumsy and can require a special phone line.

By contrast, OmniShare makes sharing documents a snap. The machine hooks up between a phone and a phone line. Two colleagues thousands of miles apart use pen pointers to bring up files loaded from a fax or PC, move them around, and annotate them. They can see each other's changes instantly.

When HP started the OmniShare project in 1992, research indicated that many architects, lawyers, and other traveling pros didn't use PCs. That has changed. Says analyst Jeffrey Henning of market watcher BIS Strategic Decisions: "The future of document conferencing is software." Even without the OmniShare hardware, HP plans to be there. OmniShare's ideas will live on in future PC software, HP says. That may not win a design award, but it might win more customers.

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