Companies remain focused on the bottom line, minimizing costs and maximizing profits. Items that were once seen as necessities are now being viewed with a shrewder look. Cheaper alternatives are being considered. One item that has been a target of most businesses is the cost of business travel. Once upon a time, companies didn’t think twice about putting people onto a plane and sending them off to meet customers. Those days no longer exist. Yes, important travel certainly still takes place. However, many businesses have looked to video conferencing to accomplish the face-to-face meetings that once were exclusively reserved for travel.
These days, the talk is all of the cloud, and most vendors are offering some sort of solution through it. Video conferencing companies are no different. Where businesses once had to invest in a video conferencing solution to have onsite, hosted solutions exist today that don’t require the need for an investment in equipment. With a PC and a webcam, as well as a broadband connection to the Internet, anyone can join in on a video conference and be productive.
Two types of solutions exist for hosted video conferencing. One solution involves no installation of any kind of software. Everything is done through a web interface. The other solution requires that a software package be downloaded and installed onto your computer. For simplicity, we’ll take a look at one of each type.
Cisco’s WebEx Meeting Center strives to be the ultimate collaborative platform available today. It does not require a client, and therefore runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Solaris. It is supported on all of the popular browsers. The lack of a client makes this a very flexible product and a good choice for a multi-flavored computer environment.
WebEx Meeting Center offers unlimited online meetings, integrated voice conferencing, and high quality video with support for multiple webcams. It has Active Speaker switching as well the ability to record meetings. Participants can chat, share audio, high quality video, and files during any meeting. Sharing is done in real-time. Users can also take advantage of real-time annotation and white boarding. Again, because it is all handled through the cloud, there isn’t any kind of software hassle in getting things to work properly.
The interface is highly secured. Post meeting reporting is available to view statistics such as attendees, polling, and so forth. An added bonus is that a client is available that works on most smartphones.
The competing product from Microsoft is similar to the Cisco product in many ways, offering most of the features that WebEx Meeting Center offers. While a version of this is available through the cloud, Windows users can install a client that allows them to take advantage of a more robust feature set.
Because of the need for a client, Live Meeting loses the flexibility that WebEx Meeting conference offers. The need for a client also raises the possibility of having issues with it running correctly. Also, the Microsoft product does not operate on all browsers as the Cisco product does; there is currently no support for Safari or Firefox on the Mac.
When deciding which product to use, be it Cisco’s WebEx Meeting Center, Microsoft’s Office Live Meeting 2007, or any one of the other offerings that are currently available, you must take into account your environment and what you are trying to accomplish. If you work in a Windows shop, the Live Meeting offering will serve you just fine. However, if your company has a mix of computers and operating systems, the Cisco product becomes more attractive because of its flexibility. Be sure to choose the product that offers the most ease of use in the environment in which you work.
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