FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Some technical information about Merlinia OutBack, which may make it easier to evaluate the product or to understand possible support problems.

Does OutBack use web server technology?

No, OutBack is based on the (old-fashioned?) client-server paradigm. OutBack Server runs on a Microsoft Windows Server system, but does not need or use any web server component, such as IIS. It communicates with the client programs (Android and Windows) using a proprietary communications protocol based on TCP/IP, not HTTP.

The intention is that this way of doing things should be more reliable, and should certainly be more hacker-proof.

Where does OutBack get its list of "users"?

For OutBack the list of "users" is typically a list of all of the employees in the organization, plus perhaps some "resources" (meeting rooms, for example) and perhaps some external entities (taxi company, pizza delivery, etc.). The basic information about these users (name, telephone number, department, office number, etc.) can be provided to OutBack via several different sources. For the employees in the organization this source is typically Microsoft Active Directory (AD), the advantage being that this minimizes maintenance - the AD is updated anyway to reflect new employees or employees who leave the organization.

However, OutBack can accept multiple sources of information about the "OutBack users", including ODBC databases, Excel spreadsheets or simple text files. The information from the multiple sources is merged together to provide additional users and/or additional information, for example as an alternative to adding a field to the AD. This merging of user information can be programmed by the customer using a powerful C# scripting facility.

What database does OutBack Server use?

OutBack is not a very data-intensive system, although the server program does maintain some information about each user and about the customer's environment (employee pictures, floor plans, etc.). Data is saved in a Microsoft ESENT (Extensible Storage Engine NT) database, ESENT, known once upon a time as JET Blue, is a non-SQL database that is a part of all Windows Server systems.

Why is there no Apple iPhone / iPad app?

Merlinia did try to develop an OutBack iPhone app, but abandoned the project when it became clear that Apple's very strict rules about how apps should communicate with their server, and what they are allowed to do when running "in the background", made it impossible to implement our proprietary communications protocol. In order to guarantee a reliable communications link, and to be able to know when the link no longer exists, a "pinging" technique is used. This is no problem with Android, but is forbidden by Apple iOS, unless you happen to be a voice-over-ip app, and even that exception is being phased out. Apple's justification is that they are trying to avoid apps that drain the battery, but we think that this should be a consideration about which the customer should be able to able to make their own decisions, not one that Apple makes on the customer's behalf.

For an alarm system setup the responders who have an iPhone can be sent an SMS when an alarm has been activated.