Skype and Citrix team up

Skype announced on March 1 that it will be entering a partnership with Citrix. The two big players are planning to integrate Citrix’ web conferencing technology into Skype.

At a first glance, Skype will profit from this move tremendously. The current Skype solution is good all-right, but not when it comes to web conferencing functionalities. We tested Skype at the end of last year and the results were pretty clear: Keeping in touch via video chat works well enough, but to do some serious online collaboration you are better off with other tools.

Now it seems as if this issue is to be history soon, since Skype will be making use of the well established Citrix technology. It will be interesting to see what the “Skype-version” of web conferencing will actually look like in the end, but it is very well possible that the tool will then also have a greater appeal for business users.

Alternative web conferencing solutions to Dimdim

With the acquisition of Dimdim and the termination of services by March 15, Salesforce.com pushes users to make a quick decision about which tool to select as a replacement for future web conferences.

When looking for a substitution you have to ask yourself which features of an online meeting solution are most important to you. We compared Dimdim to all its competitors we listed in our ranking taking into account the following three criteria users might look for:

- range of functionalities,
- similar user interface,
- browser based vs. desktop based.

Especially the last criterion is interesting in this case. Dimdim allowed you to access your meeting through your browser and upload data into a virtual room to share it with others. But sharing your entire desktop was also possible and only required the download and installation of an additional app.

So if you prefer the browser-based approach, the tools that are the closest to what Dimdim offered are Adobe Connect 8, Fuze Meeting, or spreed.com. If you prefer the desktop-based model, which we personally do, we suggest you have a look at the top 5 tools in our comparison.

Of course, users will not be able to get an identical tool and take over where they left off. So why not use this as an opportunity to perhaps select a completely different service.

And we’re not necessarily talking about higher cost as a given, although quality does have its price and free solutions seem to be struggling on the market as Dimdim and Yugma have impressively demonstrated. All pros and cons of the different online collaboration solutions available are included on our site.

The idea of free web conferencing services goes on the fritz

Many vendors provide free versions of their web conferencing solutions. Often the functionality is only slightly less than that of a paid account and sufficient for a large number of users.

This model seems to be no longer working as recent developments on the online collaboration market have shown. Yugma, as we already pointed out in an earlier post, provides the bit that is left of its services from India. And Dimdim can hardly have been profitable if Salesforce.com’s first action after the acquisition is to stop the service for all free and paying customers.

Providing web conferencing services means large investments in infrastructure, and if too many of your users can live with the functionalities of the free versions, you really need to have a large number of paying customers to cover the deficit.

Citrix plans to take over Netviewer to expand its share of the European market

While Salesforce.com just inhaled deeply and swallowed Dimdim in the process, the planned acquisition of Netviewer by Citrix is a whole other story.

Citrix Online with its products GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, and GoToTraining, has an enormous share in the worldwide web conferencing market, as the company proudly declares on its website. Netviewer on the other hand leads the German-speaking market when it comes to online collaboration.

In its press release Citrix is very candid about its goals, the major one being to accelerate growth in Europe. It will be very interesting to see what will come from this joining of forces. GoToMeeting and Netviewer Meet, currently number 1 and 2 in our ranking of web conferencing solutions, have been providing outstanding online meeting solutions for a long time and if the joined service keeps “simpler is better” as its motto, web conferencing users are in for a positive surprise.

Salesforce.com acquires Dimdim and leaves its users less than happy

We received some angry emails from Dimdim users in the last couple of days. What happened? Well, as has been published widely throughout the Net Salesforce.com has acquired Dimdim and thus now owns a very advanced web conferencing technology. Dimdim had made it to number 8 in our comparison of web conferencing solutions.

As Salesforce.com states on its website, one of the major reasons for the acquisition was

to bring new real-time communication capabilities to the Chatter collaboration platform, mirroring the proven Facebook model of combining collaboration and communication into an integrated service.

So it is once again Facebook that is driving innovation and tempting other – in this case admittedly powerful – online players to copy or emulate its services. And a “corporate Facebook” really is an intriguing idea, so we will be following the developments closely.

But this didn’t cause the angry emails mentioned above. These were triggered by a Dimdim ‘service mail’ informing all users of their online meeting software that the company will no longer provide its services after March 15 – even for paying customers. Only those users with a yearly subscription will be able to use the service until the contractually agreed upon end date. How good customer service will remain after March 15 we shall have to see.

However, cutting off all services with a three month notice to customers is not really a good move, considering that all uploaded documents will no longer be accessible after the shutdown, which means that users have to make sure to download everything they might need on time. For other info on the consequences for customers you can check out Dimdim’s FAQs on the subject.

Since the service is no longer continued we will remove Dimdim from our ranking of online meeting tools. We will keep you informed about further consequences and invite all Dimdim users to check out our list of online meeting solutions for a suitable replacement.

Upgrade for Yugma Free web conferencing users

Looking at Yugma’s website today, it is still hard to tell if anything is happening or not. True, the date in the copyright has been changed to 2011, but otherwise there is not much going on if you check out the forums or the news section. And yet, the lights don’t seem to have gone out completely since we just received an email notifying us – as free users – of a change in policy that went into effect on January 4.

As of January 4th Yugma Free users will be able to have unlimited meeting per day. Users will be limited to 15 minutes of use per meeting but will otherwise be able to enjoy Yugma P2 functionality.

As an explanation, P2 is Yugma’s Premium package, the number indicating how many attendees may join the host in an online meeting. Now we were not quite sure if Yugma simply wants to make a minor change sound really good in their email, and if the aim is to get long-time Free users to upgrade to Premium.

If the website contains current information the statement in the email is not altogether true, since the website states that ”Yugma Webinar registration & Data Tracking” is not available in the Free version. There would also remain a difference in “Technical Support / Customer Service” since email and phone service is only available to Premium users (Yugma’s web conferencing features).

If the website contains old information the email is merely a PR effort since there really are no major differences between Free and Premium, except for the number of meetings per day. And granting Free users an unlimited amount of 15-minute-meetings a day is a rather questionable improvement, since how often have you been able to wrap up an entire meeting in 15 minutes?

We did gain insight to the fact that Yugma still seems to be actively providing their services. However, the quality of service and support remains uncertain, which is why we will stick to our decision of not including Yugma in our ranking of web conferencing solutions.

Online meetings for the visually impaired

We talk about usability a lot, but what if you have trouble seeing what’s on the screen or can’t see it at all? Some vendors state that their solutions offer optimized usability for the visually impaired. That is all good and nice, but before verifying those claims, we took a step back to have a look at the big picture.

First of all we checked for how many potential users this issue poses a difficulty. According to USA today and the AFB (American Foundation for the Blind) there are 10 million visually impaired people living in the US, 1.3 million of whom are legally blind. Within that group you can further discern those who are most likely to ever use a web conferencing solution, i.e. the 2-3 million people who are working age. That makes 0,7% of the total US population.

Naturally, no matter how small that group is, they may not be disregarded. Accessibility policies vary from country to country, but most countries – including EU-countries – have adopted standards in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to establish a minimum level of accessibility.

Our testing team sees two options of making an online meeting accessible to the visually impaired. One option are screen readers or magnification devices. Regarding the screen readers we are not too sure how vendors would implement them, considering that during an online meeting screens are shared, and the reader would thus have to be able to recognize the content on another attendee’s desktop. The user interface could also be optimized as far as font and button size is concerned, or the arrangement of items together with colors.

So there really are many questions attached to this topic. It would be interesting for us to hear about experiences and usage scenarios. So if you have any info for us please let us know, since we are anxious to learn more on this topic.

Yugma stays out! We just can’t take them back into our ranking.

In June 2009 we removed the online meeting solution Yugma from our ranking. Yugma had made it into the top 3. We made our decision to remove Yugma after we were notified of a planned company shut-down. Hearing that, we assumed that Yugma’s online meeting service would not be available on an ongoing basis.

We’ve been monitoring this issue and noticed that the Yugma website has remained up and running the whole time. Also, Yugma’s solutions are still available for tests or purchase in nearly unchanged format. So, were we wrong in our estimation 1 ½ years ago?

Take a look at Yugma.com and you will notice that the company’s site seems to have frozen since the announced shut-down: There are no new press releases, no support news, and only very few recent forum entries. A promo banner for “Yugma AV Beta” has been on the site for nine months now, under the category “coming soon”.

So we asked a former Yugma executive to fill us in on the situation. Here’s what he told us:

They are operating out of India largely, with a "storefront" in Minneapolis.

About the service ... you know that for Unified Conferencing type of services ... the biggest requirement is "Availability" and "Reliability". If you cannot guarantee uptime then no way will you be able to trust your mission-critical meetings on any service.

If a company does not have investments and runs out of India how can you guarantee international quality service? It's a chicken and egg problem. Which came first? How can you make new investments in technology, and invest in customer acquisition?

After a quick test this is what we currently can say about the online meeting services: Yugma’s solutions are still available and can be used. The server-infrastructure seems to remain intact. One of the newer forum entries points out that there are some problems when running the software on Windows Vista and Windows 7, so there definitely are still active users out there. However, we will not include Yugma in our ranking again: The reliability of the service remains too shaky for us to recommend it – with a clear conscience – as a web meeting software.

Putting all these objections aside for a moment: If we actually evaluated Yugma according to our testing criteria the solution would make its way directly back into the top 10 – this time as number 8, though.

drop.io has been purchased by Facebook and will discontinue its services

drop-io is a file-sharing service that will now be closing its doors due to acquisition by Facebook. All users of this service are recommended to download data stored on the service’s platform until December 15, since it will be deleted afterwards. Here are some more details.

The software had ranked low in our comparison of online meeting tools and we have now removed it from the overview entirely.

Skype: Great for private chats and calls, not so great for web conferencing

Why did we include Skype in our ranking today? Or better: Why have we waited until today to do so?

Millions of users have been calling each other via Skype for years. If more than two users are in the call – Skype has been offering this functionality for quite some time now – you could say that they are in an „audio conference“. With version 4.1 for Windows and 2.8 for Mac, Skype introduced desktop sharing, which we like to refer to as screen sharing – for two and only two users. With version 5, Skype has enhanced its video functionality: now, for the first time ever, more than two Skype users can wave at each other without being in the same room.

This step-by-step inclusion of features that are important for web conferencing, and the popularity of Skype induced us to test the tool and compare it with the other online collaboration solutions in our ranking. Of course, Skype is chiefly in use for private „meetings“, which is why the focus of the developers understandably rests on the functionalities most relevant to the consumer, as e.g. video calls. With the introduction of desktop sharing, however, Skype has provided business users with an essential functionality for web conferencing, next to VoIP and chat.

The major reason why we haven’t considered Skype so far is just as mundane as it is essential: If you want to use Skype you need an account! And since the world is not quite as black and white and doesn’t change with such breath-taking speed as Michael Arlington likes to suggest in his little „TechCrunch Hightech-Startup-Corner“ the overwhelming majority of business users worldwide simply does not comply with this crucial prerequisite. And if we want to remain realistic for just a second: This will not change all to soon. A lot of potential business users have a big enough workload as is without trying to find the right balance between VoIP and POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) at the workplace. And, not to forget, many companies deny their workers usage of Skype straight out.

Nevertheless, Skype is already being used as a web conferencing solution in some online collaboration scenarios. Especially teams that are spread out across the globe need to make sure to coordinate their efforts and often resort to Skype as a solution. By introducing Skype into our ranking we want to demonstrate what you can do with the tool in regards to online collaboration, and what it leaves to be desired in comparison with established web conferencing tools.

In our test we did not give demerits for the fact that only registered users with an account can share their screens. But we did downgrade the ranking for the biggest – and most painful – gap: Screen Sharing, unlike video conferencing, is only possible between two users! Other turn-offs are:
- Switching mouse and keyboard control is not possible in screen sharing mode;
- Skype offers no marking tools;
- A meeting cannot be scheduled in advance and invitations cannot be announced via mail or Outlook-calendar.

Michael Arrington from Techcrunch posted a blog-post called „Skype Screen Sharing Is A Huge (And Free) Productivity Tool“ in which he lists the major advantages of Skype, i.e. that usage is free of cost and very intuitive. This argument is not really valid. There are well-established, free-of-cost web conferencing tools such as Mikogo and DimDim that offer much more and allow meetings between anybody – not just registered users. Ok, true: with Skype’s “always-on” mode users can start a screen sharing session in five seconds. Most of the webconferencing solutions we tested need between fifteen seconds for scheduled meetings and 60 seconds for ad-hoc meetings. But come on! That cannot seriously be considered a great advantage of Skype. So this is not a relevant criterion either.

Third-party vendors of web conferencing solutions are of no real help when it comes to closing the gap of missing functionalities in their integrated Skype versions. Providers such as Innerpass, Oneeko, Yugma, VuRoom, and Yuuguu basically only offer meeting hosts to include Skype users in their invitations and use Skype’s VoIP functionality. The actual conference is then held with the providers’ own platform, not Skype.