The wild proliferation of online meeting tools makes it easier than ever to collaborate across distances — except that before you can use one you have to choose from among all those tools.
Which one is right for you? I’ve rounded up nine you might consider: Adobe Acrobat Connect, Central Desktop, Dimdim, Glance, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Live Meeting, ReadyTalk, WebEx MeetMeNow, and Yugma. If there’s one you like that’s not on the list, tell us about it in the comments.
Some of the features you might look for in an online meeting tool include:
- Presentation, desktop, and application sharing
- Chat — text, voice, and video
- Whiteboarding and annotations
- Two-way screen sharing so that attendees can become presenters
- Shared mouse and keyboard control
- Audioconferencing via VoIP or a dial-in number
- Session recording
- Multiplatform support for both hosting meetings and attending them
- All browser-based solution — no download required
- Transparent pricing
Adobe’s Flash-based Acrobat Connect supports Mac or Windows hosts and attendees, integrates webcam feeds for streaming videos, and provides chat capabilities for meetings of up to 15 people. It offers extensive whiteboarding capabilities, but you have to pause the presentation and freeze the display in order to use them.
Note Acrobat Connect is not the rebranded (and quite popular) Macromedia Breeze, which became Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional. Acrobat Connect Professional provides web conferencing for up to 2,500 participants, embedded quizzes and surveys, and session recording.
Acrobat Connect is priced at $39.95 per month or $395 for an annual subscription. Each account comes with reservationless telephone conferencing as well as an always-on personal meeting room with URL.
Much more than just a web meeting tool, Central Desktop provides an array of tools for team collaboration, including document archiving, wiki-style editing, discussion forums, and project status tracking. But for a competitive $35 a month, you can get the free version of the basic tool with web meetings for up to 10 attendees.
Central Desktop’s web meetings provide for remote presentations and screen sharing with integrated free audio conferencing and Outlook Calendar integration. You need the Java Runtime v1.1 or higher to launch a web meeting, but any browser should allow you to join into and attend a meeting.
Central Desktop offers instant messaging presence integration with all the major IM networks (AIM, ICQ, Yahoo, MSN Messenger, Skype, Jabber).
Beta offering Dimdim comes in four versions: a free hosted version, hosted enterprise edition, onsite enterprise edition, and free open source community edition. Based on Flash, the hosted version requires zero download for use assuming you already have the Flash player installed — something struggling WebEx users might be glad to hear.
Intended in its enterprise editions to go up against heavyweights like Cisco’s WebEx and Microsoft’s Live Meeting, Dimdim offers all the features you’d expect: presentation/desktop/application sharing, annotations, session recording, and audio and video chat.
While they do offer a free version, it seems to be more demoware than anything else, as the website says of that edition, “Basically meant for trying out the product and becoming familiar with it.” The hosted enterprise edition runs $99/year/room, with a maximum of 20 participants per room.
To run your own meeting, sign up for an account and download the Windows or Mac client. Click a button, and up to 100 invited guests can view your screen by navigating to the provided URL. It uses a Java applet for attendees, so Windows, Mac, and Linux users should be supported.
In October, Glance announced a lightweight remote control feature, allowing the meeting host to share control with guests at any time.
Glance Personal runs $49.95/month or $499/year for one session at a time of any duration. You can try Glance for a week with no credit card required.
GoToMeeting from Citrix Online is one of the most full-featured web meeting tools available. Too bad it only supports Windows meeting hosts, not Mac or Linux, though Mac attendee support was added in version 3 via a Java-based attendance applet. Its basic features include screen sharing, chat, attendee permissions, and real-time annotations. You can also record your meeting session with audio, change presenters, and share keyboard and mouse control.
GoToMeeting is priced at $49 monthly or $468 annually for up to 15 attendees in addition to the organizer. The package includes teleconferencing: you get a toll-based, long distance number that meeting participants dial into.
Microsoft acquired PlaceWare in 2003 and then renamed the software Live Meeting. Geared towards corporate customers, Live Meeting supports multiple communications channels including live and recorded video, chat, slides and application sharing, VoIP, and audience feedback. The standard offering supports up to 15 participants.
You can of course use a full-featured Windows-based desktop client to access Live Meeting. A Java-based web client is also available, and runs on Mac with the Safari browser or Solaris using Firefox.
The pricing of Live Meeting is clearly geared towards companies who want to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get the best deal. Most web workers and small business owners might better look elsewhere, to offerings provided at a flat monthly rate or even free (see Yugma, below).
ReadyTalk provides integrated web and audioconferencing using pay-per-minute or corporate subscription pricing. But you have to call them to find out about their “simple and flexible pricing.” If they can’t provide their pricing on an easy-to-understand web page, they’re probably not a service that most web workers are going to use.
I attended a ReadyTalk online meeting recently, though, and thought it worked well. Of course it provides slide, application, and desktop sharing. It records conferences with synchronized audioconference recording. Attendees connect with Java applets, so that provides good multiplatform support.
ReadyTalk offers a test URL where you can check system compatibility prior to your conference. That helps avoid the awful “I can’t get onto the conference” experience that wastes time right as the meeting starts.
WebEx, the great grandma of online meeting providers acquired by Cisco for $3.2 billion, now has to fight back against upstart competitors providing web meetings at a flat monthly rate. WebEx has responded with its MeetMeNow, aimed at individual use.
Dig into the system requirements page and you’ll read that MeetMeNow works only on Windows. Does that mean for meeting organizers? Or meeting attendees too? It’s not clear from the website. I’ve routinely had problems, however, getting onto regular WebEx conferences with my Mac, even after downloading the WebEx meeting player and using it with Safari, as recommended.
Yugma (pronounced “yoogma”) is a Sanskrit word meaning “the state of being in unified collaboration.” Yugma’s free version offers meetings with up to 10 participants, desktop sharing across Mac and Windows, file annotations, and a teleconferencing dial-in. It’s Java based and you can check if your system is Yugma-capable by just clicking a link.
With the premium version starting at $9.95 a month for ten-participant meetings, you get shared control of mouse and keyboard, session scheduling and recording, and shared file space.
In September, Yugma announced Skype integration that allows you to share desktops with your Skype contacts whether they’re on Windows or Mac.
Web Worker Daily suggests
Try Yugma’s free edition for meetings up to 10 people, Glance if you need simple screen sharing with up to 100 people, Central Desktop if you like the idea of team collaboration mixed with web meetings, or Adobe Acrobat Connect if you want video chat.