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.

We are done – or are we?

Our tool-reviews for InstantPresenter and MegaMeeting are the last in our list of now altogether 31 evaluations. We currently are not planning to include any further tools. Now, does that mean that we have actually given you a comprehensive overview of the online meeting market? Well, yes and no.

The market for online conferencing solutions is a very dynamic one with new vendors popping up constantly and existing solutions being expanded, upgraded, or bought and integrated into other solutions. So an overview of this market can never be all-including. What also makes our life as evaluators difficult is the fact that there really hardly are clear distinctions between the web conferencing market and solutions for remote support, webinars, video conferencing, and e-learning to name just a few.

Yet, if we look at what we define as web conferencing solutions for professional usage with focus on desktop sharing functionality, we can say that our list of tools gives you exhaustive coverage of all tools worthy of notice. More precisely: There are no further tools out there with realistic chances of making it into our top 15. That is why we deliberately will forbear from further detailed testing and rather concentrate our efforts on keeping the information on our site up to date.

We have a backlist of web conferencing tools that we have scanned briefly and decided not to test extensively. Tools on that list are e.g. CrossLoop, GatherPlace, WiredRed, WebMeetLive, Voxwire, Yuuguu, NTRmeeting, and almost Meet. As our brief tests have shown, these tools are in need of further improvement before we can consider them for extensive testing.

And that means we actually are done – for now. If you are looking for a good online conferencing solution you can be assured that our ranking represents the best tools that are available at the moment.

Well ok, we are not perfect. So if we should have missed a solution for web conferencing by some odd chance let us know. We will check it out.