Wireless Whiteboards Free Up Meetings

New generation of whiteboards takes notes, breaks barriers

By Eric Dahl

Does your office do a lot of brainstorming, training sessions, or remote meetings? Whiteboard-capture hardware is a great way to preserve precious meeting notes. These systems consist of a capture device and special pen holders that record whiteboard scribbles by sensing the position and movement of whiteboard pens. Included software can network meetings for remote users, capture audio along with whiteboard data, and annotate meeting notes.

Until recently, however, capture hardware connected to your PC or laptop via long wires, and it required specialized software and training for users. Now, a new generation of capture hardware aims to remove those barriers. Interlink Electronics' $899 FreeBeam, an enhanced version of EFI's EBeam, uses an IR link instead of a cable to connect to your PC. And Virtual Ink's $799 Mimio Xi takes the PC out of the equation altogether.

I tested a shipping version of FreeBeam, a compact, triangular capture pod that attaches via suction cups to a corner of your whiteboard. Since the infrared transmitter in the capture pod requires power, FreeBeam isn't completely wire-free, but it does have a wireless connection to the PC. FreeBeam recorded my scrawls accurately, and I also appreciated not having a whiteboard-to-PC wire to trip over. Software plug-ins can perform handwriting recognition (to turn your handwriting into editable text), capture audio to go with your meeting, and share your meeting with remote users.

A preproduction version of Mimio Xi showed even more promise: The folding, silver capture bar doesn't need a PC to record pen strokes. Mimio Xi carries 500KB of on-board memory, which it uses for storing whiteboard data.

PC-less operation eliminates the largest impediment to capturing whiteboard meetings--namely, the need to set up a PC with the software installed before a meeting begins. With Mimio Xi, you just slap the bar onto your whiteboard and start writing. Once you're done, take the bar back to your PC, connect via USB, and your whiteboard session downloads automatically.

A new software feature called self-viewing ink lets you save whiteboard data as an .exe file that users can view without Mimio software. If you use Mimio Xi without a PC connection, however, you won't be able to record matching audio using the company's BoardCast plug-in, nor will you be able to share any meetings with remote users.

Except for its occasional need to be wired, Mimio Xi seems more useful than FreeBeam. If Virtual Ink gets a wireless connection out, Mimio Xi will be a clear winner. Until then, FreeBeam is more convenient for handling networked whiteboard meetings.

From the April 2002 issue of PC World magazine

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.