NetMeeting reaches end of life

Many companies currently still use NetMeeting. However, the tool’s shortcomings make it very inconvenient for continued usage which is why those companies are now on the lookout for an alternative web conferencing solution.

Incompatibility with Microsoft Office 2010 is only the last of issues that have made usage of NetMeeting quite tedious. If an online collaboration tool does not allow you to demonstrate a simple PowerPoint presentation there is something seriously wrong.
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How video functionality weighs into our ranking

Video has been in use privately for quite some time but has been ridiculously slow in regards of becoming really useful for business online collaboration. Now that an increasing number of employees who need to attend or host online meetings either have a mobile computing device with a built-in camera or an external webcam plugged in, web conferencing vendors feel the time has come to integrate video into their solutions. And since internet connections are getting faster and faster why not go to HD while they are at it?

Now where does this leave us and our ranking of online meeting tools? Well, first of all there will be no shift of focus. We will not rank a tool higher just because it makes it possible for you to wave into a camera. The focus will remain on functionalities that enable and/or enhance online collaboration. Desktop screen sharing and the document- and information-centric joint working with applications really is the key to all online collaboration technologies.

So far we had only figured in video at the margin, giving a tool a minor increase in overall score if it enabled video. But this yes/no logic really does not reflect this specific functionality well enough anymore. If a vendor offers video in his software we want to know the following:

  • Can you scale the videos? It is really annoying if you have huge heads staring at you while you try to read text on a presentation that is displayed in a corner of the screen. Users should be able to move cameras and re-size them to their liking.
  • How does a tool handle the enormous amount of data being streamed? The software must be backed up by a powerful server infrastructure that can handle all data upstreams and downstreams. Regardless of the number of participants or the single participants’ internet connection the tool must deliver video without compromising the overall quality of the online meeting.
  • Are voice and video connected? If two or three people are in a conference it is fairly easy to identify the speaker. But if you have six participants in a conference and are discussing a document that is being displayed you do not want to be stuck having to check whose lips are moving. So the current speaker should be highlighted by the tool.
  • Are voice and video not only connected but in sync? You don’t want to be talking and see that on the screen your lips are moving a second later than when you are actually forming the words.

We will consider these options – and potentially more we might consider useful – in our future tests and make sure that video has a greater influence on overall score than it currently has. Video can really enhance an online meeting if it is integrated into the software wisely. Video functionality must seamlessly fit into the tool and really offer the users an additional advantage. It is all about user friendliness and if video doesn’t enhance the usability of a web conferencing solution it shouldn’t be integrated in the first place.

Video is becoming an integral part of web conferencing solutions

We at Online Meeting Tools Review have treated video conferencing as a side aspect so far. But there currently is a trend in the online collaboration market to include high quality video into well structured web conferencing tools, opening up many new possibilities for holding online meetings.

Until recently video was basically being used in businesses for the following two scenarios:

Scenario 1: Many larger companies had proprietary high-end conferencing systems installed in dedicated meeting rooms, based on the technology provided by Cisco, Polycom, Tandberg and the likes. These served as a somewhat expensive toy in C-Level meetings spread over various locations and even continents.

Scenario 2: Teams spread over different locations make use of low-end solutions. There are basically two ways for teams to collaborate using video conferencing technology:

  1. Freeware such as Skype and now also Google+ hangouts are an easy way to connect. The only requirement is that all participants need to have an account for the respective platform before they can start a video conference. With Skype users get some web conferencing functionalities as the tool allows e.g. screen sharing. However, many organizations prohibit users from using tools like Skype, due to security concerns.
  2. Apple and Microsoft make it possible: Teams can also collaborate via tools that are tied to the respective OS or vendor-based server technologies, such as Apple’s iChat and Microsoft’s Lync and OCS (Office Communication Server). These do work pretty well for video conferencing, however typically only within the organization’s firewall.

Another general restriction to video conferencing used to be the relatively low number of users with webcams. This is becoming less of an issue due to huge increases in mobile devices which usually feature a built-in webcam of some sorts and of course cheap external devices that can be used via plug and play. Privately these have been used for quite some time now and web conferencing vendors are now feeling conditions have changed sufficiently for them to integrate video into their solutions and actually offer customers additional value by doing so.

So with business users having their webcams in place, strong enough internet connections to actually allow HD (High Definition) video streaming it seems that conditions are near perfect for web conferencing vendors to integrate video into their tools. We will give you our take on this trend shortly and we’ll let you know how we will be figuring video functionality into our overall ranking.

Are you currently using a video conferencing solution on a regular basis for business purposes? If so just leave a comment and let us know what solution you are using and how that is working out for you.

RHUB extends services to UK and Europe

RHUB issued a statement the other day that the company plans to extend its reach to the UK and Europe by forming a partnership with Collaboration Technologies Ltd in London. For users this means that sales and support for GoMeetNow will be available in the old world now, too.

Just as Citrix intended with the acquisition of Netviewer, RHUB will be very keen on increasing their share of the European web conferencing market. Read the entire statement here.

Killer Webinars helps you with creating and holding your webinar

We at Online Meeting Tools Review focus on testing the software that allows you to conduct meetings online more or less easily. Webinars are one of the meeting types you can handle with web conferencing software (see our distinction between web conference and webinar).

After visiting our site you should have a good idea of which software to go with. How you best conduct a meeting or a webinar is a whole other business. And this is where sites such as killerwebinars.com come in. You pick the platform you wish to use and they can help you with the rest. From preparing to holding a webinar the site offers many useful tips.

Meeting online with Google+

Google is going social. Now it is hard to come up with revolutionary concepts when others like Facebook have brought social networking to near perfection and solutions like Skype make you wonder how video chatting could be any easier. Google+ aims at providing all these services, manageable under one convenient location.

Since we focus on web conferencing we checked how easy it is to conduct meetings online with our Google+ test account. At the moment a Google+ participant can invite you to “hang out”. You will see this invitation posted on your Google+ account only, meaning there are no email invitations currently available.

So we hung out and checked which features Google+ provides. Video is easy and performs well. You also have a text chat option. The YouTube button is a nice touch, but it is still not working properly, i.e. not everyone can see the video – but that most likely has to do with Google still refining its service.

The bottom line for us is: Video, audio, and text chats are there which allow for rudimentary online collaboration. The fact that you need to be a member of the service and logged in to participate is a minus considering that for online meetings you want to have a barrier free experience rather than forcing every participant to open an account before joining a meeting. Screen sharing is what we definitely would expect to be added next. Throw in email notifications and the possibility to schedule meetings and we’re talking. But currently, Google+ really only is a place to hang out. And even with all those features added it just might not be the tool of choice for web conferencing.

Microsoft buys Skype – but what about Skype’s partnership with Citrix?

By now the commotion around Microsoft’s purchase of Skype has settled a bit and we can ask our standard question: What does this mean for the web conferencing market?

The overall perception of the acquisition is mixed. Some say that it was a brilliant move by Microsoft and it will give Microsoft a huge share of the online collaboration market. Others simply wonder why you would spend so much money for a service that overlaps to large extents with what you are already offering, e.g. with Windows Live Messenger.

We are wondering about a completely different aspect of this deal, which is very intriguing: A little while back it was announced that Skype would be teaming up with Citrix to integrate Citrix’ web conferencing technology into Skype. Now Citrix GoToMeeting is a direct rival of Microsoft’s own online Meeting solution, Microsoft Office Live Meeting.

Currently it is hard to say whether this is a recipe for disaster or for an outstanding web conferencing solution. Either way, we will keep you posted.

Mac users are being neglected by web conferencing vendors

There has been a large hype about web conferencing solutions for mobile devices for the last couple of months. And rightfully so. The mobile market – with the iPhone and iPad as forerunners – is growing at an incredible rate so it is mandatory that vendors of online collaboration tools make their solutions available to this growing customer segment.

Now this segment has been rudimentarily covered by the vendors, and the mobile applications – which we have tested extensively – make it possible for attendees on the run to experience an online meeting with the limitations their mobile devices set. So what is the next trend now? HD-video!

All well and good, but with all these new developments there is one thing that vendors keep disregarding. Of course it is nice to have new and flashy features. However, if you only make these available to one set of users and give the rest of us only basic functionalities, something is amiss.

You might have guessed it: We are speaking of the divide between Windows users and Mac users. What web conferencing vendors tend to disregard is that the online meeting market is different from all other software markets in one fundamental aspect: the rule that you need to make sure to cover the requirements of the vast majority (Windows users) before everything else does not apply. And why not? Simply because even though the Mac OS X user group is still small in comparison you do not know with which device an attendee will log into the meeting.

Even if only one attendee logs into the meeting with his Mac and the solution you are using does not support that, you have a problem. Fortunately, the better ranked tools in our comparison all offer some degree of Mac compatibility, which allows for attendance and collaboration in varying degrees. But even GoToMeeting clearly favors Windows users, and hasn’t developed their solution for Mac OS X further in the last years.

In our tool reviews we point at compatibility of the solutions with common Operating Systems. We will be keeping a close look at this issue and if a tool doesn’t show any promise of improving the service for Mac users, we will consider deducting points from the overall score. And no, that is not too harsh. This is a major factor in user friendliness, since a web conferencing host should not have to worry about whether everyone is able to follow him.

Adobe Connect 8 makes it to the top 5 of web conferencing solutions

There is a lot happening on the online meeting market, which is now noticeable in our ranking! There is quite some commotion among the top 5. With Netviewer removed and vacating rank 2, Adobe has launched a new version and itself to rank 2.

The keyword that summarizes Adobe Connect 8 best is complexity. Adobe masters this by providing a large amount of features which can be easily arranged on the user interface, which itself can be adapted for every meeting.

Other improvements are the handling of meetings directly from the desktop client (needs to be installed) and the enhancement of the invitation functionality. The invitation process can now easily be integrated into Outlook or Lotus Notes.

Before using the online meeting solution the meeting host needs to make a trade-off decision between two basic options:
1) Install a couple of plugins and handle everything from the desktop;
2) Handle meetings with the online portal, which is a bit more complicated.

Altogether Adobe Connect 8 offers many positive new features and has become a true allrounder that can be used in any web conferencing scenario. Read all the details on the solution here.

Netviewer removed from our ranking of web conferencing solutions

We mentioned a while back that Citrix was about to acquire Netviewer. Well, the plan was now put into action – and nobody was told. So what exactly happened?

Since today netviewer.com only features the Citrix products GoToMeeting and GoToAssist. That was to be expected eventually, but what is really surprising is the fact that we as test users didn’t receive communication of any kind on the transition. The least you could expect is a one-liner giving you a heads up.

Citrix and Netviewer officials gave us a statement today on how existing customers can continue to use the services. All current Netviewer customers can continue to utilize the online meeting solution without restrictions until their contract ends (2 years max).

The bottom line? The flow of information could have been a bit smoother. And since Netviewer is no longer available to new customers we have removed it from our ranking of online meeting solutions, where it was featured as number 2.