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Digi-Net DigiChat 4.0 Enterprise Edition
Java based graphical online chat server and client.

By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting
Tuesday, October 7, 2003; 3:00pm EST


Online chat has grown wildly in popularity over recent times making it one of the major past times for Internet users. The concept of online chat can be traced all the way back to the early eighties and late seventies when people were chatting over dial up BBS (Bulletin Board Systems). However the most recent product offerings bare little resemblance to what was on tap 20 some odd years ago. Today's chat servers offer the capacity of concurrent user sessions in the thousands, a rich highly customizable graphical environment and numerous user and administration tools and functions. A strong example of what contemporary online chat represents is the newly released DigiChat 4 by Digi-Net Technologies of Florida, USA.

DigiChat 4 represents the latest release of a product that has enjoyed immense popularity and respect throughout the Internet. Users of past versions have been eagerly awaiting this version, and we believe they will be well rewarded for their wait. DigiChat has come through our tests with excellent results, proving good things come to those who wait.

Based on a Java platform, the DigiChat server is multi-platform compatible with just about everything including Windows NT/2000, MacOS, Linux, Unix, Solaris and any other operating system supporting Java. Hardware requirements are minimal, for example a Windows NT based system requires a minimum specification of a Pentium 200MHz processor and 64MB of memory. And with higher specifications comes more user capacity and performance. The server we used for our testing was a Windows 2000, Pentium III 933MHz with 256MB of memory. The Java based client for the users is equally robust requiring only minimal systems specs, an installed JRE and relatively recent Netscape or Microsoft Explorer browser.

Installation of the DigiChat server software was a complete no-brainer, requiring almost no input during the installation process with exception to configuring the JVM (Java Virtual Machine) and where the chat applet would reside on the web server. Once installed its a simple matter of typing in the license keys, setting up a room and you're up and running in about 5 minutes total install time!

We are impressed with the intuitive design of the DigiChat client. Buttons, drop-down menus and option windows are well organized and quick to navigate. The scrollable user and conversation windows and associated flag, private message and user information icons are clear and simple to use. Just about every aspect of the chat environment can be changed either by the administrator or user. Administrators can use the new skins feature to create a completely customized look and feel to their chat room by simply replacing graphic files in the DigiChat resources folder. Users on the other hand, can define their chat font colour, size and speed; window size and user icon.

One of the many features that sets DigiChat apart from the pack is the use of user icons. Users can look through a catalogue of images that can be associated with their name in the user list and in conversation as a way to help identify who you are. Approximately 40 images are included, all of which are changeable with your own or can be expanded upon. Similarly cool is the 'emoticon' feature which translates specified text strings into icons. For example a text :) smiley would be displayed as a graphical representation, a highly popular feature for chat rooms to have. The DigiCast feature lets administrators display within the chat room text automated messages at set time intervals. This is a handy way to communicate information to users such as tips for new users, scheduled server maintenance, etc. Unheard of in chat room software to our knowledge is DigiChat's new feature of peer to peer file transferring. Allowing you to transfer files between other chat room users via a signed version of the chat applet. Users can then swap pictures, files and music while in a conversation.

For moderators, improved automated flood controls kick out unruly users automatically depending on the criteria you specify. The ability to kick out a user or 'permanently' ban them is similar as previous version of the software and allow banning based on user computer's address information and IP ranges. DigiChat 4 can store chat transcripts to a file on the server if configured to do so. The ChatWatch feature allows for filtering of content by replacing specified words with 'alternatives', excellent for filtering out language. For a fully moderated environment, DigiChat 4 ENT version allows for a complete auditorium style discussion allowing control of the entire conversation - perfect for hosting special guest events. Guests, moderator accounts and administrator account rights are fully configurable to allow control over what a particular moderators privileges are. However, there is no internal user database or management functionality, therefore you must write code (examples being PHP, CGI or ASP) to interface with an external database system you would need to develop. In our tests we used ASP code interfacing with an Access database which seemed to function well enough, although somewhat lacking in security against avid hackers. For users behind proxies or firewalls, HTTP tunneling can be enabled through the installation of additional third-party software and configuration changes to DigiChat. This helps for compatibility with the maximum amount of users possible.

The DigiChat client features space for advertising, although it is not configurable to tie in with third party or in-house ad servers, it allows you to display rotated hyperlinked banner advertising. What DigiChat is good at integrating with is the entire range of Digi-Net products. Named the 'Enclave Community Suite', you can have the DigiPosts and Hubz products work seamlessly with DigiChat to have a full fledged community of discussion forms, chat rooms and instant messaging on your web site.

The new Bots feature allows you to write or implement written bots for automated and intelligent interaction with users. Programs can be written to respond or query users with dynamic content pulled from specified sources. Example uses of such a feature would be a user requesting the weather for their local area and DigiChat answering back with data pulled from a chosen source of weather data. It can also be a great automated help system, trivia style game or other idea. Your imagination is really the limit on this one. A 'Commander' feature, available in the ADV version, allows a much higher level of interaction with server utilizing command-line parameters as the gateway to the servers functionality. Get reports on chat server statistics, automate routine administration and maintenance functions. Most interestingly, it can allow interfacing with email systems, for example, to alert individual users of incoming email in their mail box. Again, your creativity can run wild with this sort of open and flexible interfacing with the chat server.

Overall the program performed flawlessly in installation, most of user testing and day to day administration. We did notice some users experienced 'lag' (slow server response times) on occasion, which seemed to be on the most part due to their own connection speed or availability which DigiChat may be sensitive to. There was also a somewhat severe bug with the private messaging functionality that was in the process of being addressed at time of publication. The DigiChat server NT service occupied a frugal 5mb of memory resources, and required amount of disk space is a non-issue. It is dependable in that we felt confident to leave it to fend for its self for potentially months at a time without problems arising. In the event something does go wrong, Digi-Net technical support proved themselves to be knowledgeable, friendly and with excellent hours of availability. Their refreshing approach was in stark contrast to the neglect you experience with many other vendors nowadays. Technical support is available in a number of channels including phone, email, live chat and discussion forum.

DigiChat 4 is available in a number of versions and concurrent user sizes to meet your needs. DigiChat PRO (Professional) version is available in 100, 500 and 1000 single site user licenses and provides a generous base set of features. DigiChat ENT (Enterprise) allows 500, 1000 and 2000 user licenses spread across up to 10 different sites with the addition of auditorium style moderation. DigiChat ADV (Advanced) is the King Kong model allowing up to an unlimited number of users over 100 web sites, auditorium style moderation, 'Commander' feature and is ideally suited to companies interested in reselling their chat room space. An OEM option on the Advanced server allows branding of the chat room applet. Pricing for the PRO, ENT and ADV start at $599US, $1999US, $4995US, respectively plus a minimum one year service plan that includes upgrades and technical support. DigiChat 4 is competitively priced, feature-packed, a snap to install, easy to manage and best of all, users love it! What more could you want?

About The Author
Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.
info@viscaconsulting.com
http://www.viscaconsulting.com/

 

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