Product Reviews

Enrich Your E-Mail

Pixetell brings voice, video and screencast capability to your e-mail in an intuitive, easy-to-use package.

For several years now, I've found that responding to e-mail messages is, by far, the most time-consuming part of my day. One of the reasons e-mail is so time-consuming is that it's text-based.

When Microsoft released Outlook 2003, the company tried to solve this problem by introducing video e-mail. You might have noticed that video e-mail never caught on. One big reason for this is that in its present form, video e-mail is proprietary.

Of course, e-mail isn't the only way to communicate with colleagues. There are a number of collaboration solutions on the market. For example, Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 (OCS 2007) allows you to host full-blown online meetings. These meetings can include voice, video, application sharing and more.

However, if you want to communicate with people using OCS 2007, they must have an account on your network, and you'll have to communicate with them in real time. You can't just capture voice, video and a desktop screen and then let them view it later on.

Recently, though, a company named Ontier Inc. decided to try addressing these problems through a product called Pixetell. Pixetell is designed to let you send rich content through e-mail. You can include voice, video, screencasts or any combination of these resource types.

What makes Pixetell so unique? It's designed to be a universal solution. When you send a Pixetell message to someone, they can receive the message through their existing e-mail account and view the message through a standard Web browser without having to install any additional software. Although you currently have to be running Windows to create a Pixetell message, recipients can view the messages regardless of what platform they're using -- Windows, Mac OS X and Linux are all supported.

The Installation Process
The installation and configuration process for Pixetell was simple. I set up an account on the Pixetell Web site and then downloaded the Pixetell software. The file that I downloaded was less than 1MB in size. The installation process consisted of simply double-clicking on the file that I'd downloaded and answering a couple of basic questions.

Once the installation process completed, I launched the Pixetell software by selecting the Pixetell option from the Start menu. The first time you run Pixetell, you have to work through the configuration process. Once again, though, the configuration process was very easy and only took a couple of minutes. It consists of specifying which microphone, speakers, Web cam and so forth you'd like to use.

[Click on image for larger view.]
Figure 1. The Pixetell interface in pull-down window mode.

Using Pixetell
Using Pixetell couldn't be easier or more intuitive. After the installation process completes, you're taken to the Pixetell interface, which I found to be straightforward and, best of all, completely non-intrusive. The interface exists in the form of a pull-down

window that's placed at the top of your screen (see Figure 1). It's barely noticeable unless you click on it, in which case the entire interface is displayed. The interface contains three main buttons. You can use these buttons to record a screencast, make a Web-cam recording or record a voice card. In case you're wondering, a voice card is nothing more than a business card that's displayed while the recipient listens to your verbal message. In addition to the three primary buttons, there's also a handy display that shows you how much space you've used.

Once you choose a recording option, another equally clean interface is displayed. When you record a screencast, a blue box appears on your screen, representing the portion of the screen that will be recorded. This box is fully adjustable. The controls allow you to start and stop the recording and to switch recording types mid-stream. For example, you could include a Web-cam recording within your screen capture.

When you're finished recording your Pixetell message, you're prompted to save the recording. Saving the message involves providing a subject line and an optional description and then clicking the Share Now button. There's a paperclip icon on the save display; clicking on this icon allows you to add an attachment to a Pixetell message. If you're running the Pro version of Pixetell -- which I'll talk about in greater detail later on -- you can password protect your recording and even allow entire Pixetell conversations.

After you save your Pixetell message, you're taken to the screen that allows you to tell Pixetell what you want to do with the message: View, E-Mail, Copy or Drag. The View option lets you play the message you've recorded so you can see what it looks like.

The two most interesting options on this screen are E-Mail and Drag. As the name implies, the E-Mail option allows you to send your Pixetell message to someone else through a standard e-mail message. This is probably how most of Pixetell's customers will choose to use the software. Upon choosing the E-Mail option, the software automatically composes a new e-mail message, which contains a link to your Pixetell message. The recipient can read the message through any e-mail client software and then simply click on the link to play the Pixetell message through a standard Web browser.

The Drag option allows you to incorporate a Pixetell message into your file system. To use this feature, you must click on the Drag button and then drag the interface to an item like a file folder or even a document-management system. One thing to keep in mind is that when you use this technique you aren't actually saving the Pixetell message to your local file system. Instead, you're saving a shortcut to the message.

The Cost
Ontier currently offers two different versions of Pixetell that both require a Pixetell subscription. A subscription to the Basic version sells for $9 per month, while the Pro version costs $19 per month. Both the Basic and Pro versions allow you to perform screen, webcam and voice card recordings. They also both allow you to include attachments with Pixetell messages. But the similarities end there.

The Basic version limits you to recording 600MB worth of Pixetell messages each month, while the Pro version has a 1,200MB limit. Likewise, the Basic version limits a message to a maximum duration of five minutes, while there are no limits to the length of a recording in the Pro version.

The Pro version offers a few features that aren't available in the Basic version. Pro users have the option of password-protecting Pixetell messages as a way of protecting those messages from prying eyes. The Pro version can also be used as a full collaboration solution. Recipients can respond to a Pixetell message with another Pixetell message. In fact, it's possible to have a two-way, or even multi-way, Pixetell conversation.

Installation 20%
Features 20%
Ease of use 20%
Administration 20%
Documentation 20%
Overall Rating:

Key: 1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent  5: Average, performs adequately   10: Exceptional

My Overall Opinion
In my opinion, the Pixetell software is the latest must-have application. I'd highly recommend it to anyone. My only beef with the product is that I've never been a fan of subscription-based pricing. I like applications that I can pay for up front and not have to worry about ongoing subscription fees. Aside from that, the software is excellent. In addition, with this product, I never had to look at the documentation. I believe this to be a true estimation of how intuitive the software is.


Price is subscription-based, and starts at $9 per month
Ontier Inc.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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