WebEx Updates Conferencing Service

Latest version of its Meeting Center service allows meetings to be launched from other applications, improves multimedia features.

WebEx Communications Inc. on Thursday will launch the latest version of its main Web conferencing service that adds the ability to initiate meetings while working in other applications.

The updated WebEx Meeting Center also includes a new note-taking panel and the automated delivery of meeting transcripts, presentations and shared documents as well as new multimedia features.

WebExs latest launch comes about a month after Microsoft unveiled its first Web conferencing service since acquiring top WebEx competitor PlaceWare Inc. this year. Microsoft Live Meeting 2003 was an upgrade to PlaceWares Conference Center service, but Microsoft officials also said they are planning to offer a server-based version.

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Microsofts push, though, hasnt slowed WebEx. Earlier month, it launched between its Meeting Center and Yahoo Inc.s enterprise instant messaging service, Business Messenger.

In its latest Meeting Center release, the San Jose, Calif.-based company also has better integrated its online meeting service with common applications, including Microsoft Office.

By downloading software, a user can add one-click access to WebEx for launching a Meeting Center meeting. The download can add WebEx access from the Windows desktop and right-click menu, Microsoft Office applications, Internet Explorer and Netscape Web browsers. With the functionality, a user can start a Web conference and invite participants while working within an enterprise or desktop application or when creating a document, said Praful Shah, vice president of strategic communications at WebEx.

"Its all about contextual communications and about your unique working environment," he said

Integration goes a step further with Microsoft Outlook. Users can add a toolbar to Outlook to access common WebEx functions, automatically send invites to WebEx meeting and add the meetings into participants calendars that support the iCal calendar-sharing standard, Shah said.

On the multimedia front, Meeting Center now allows users to view as many as four video streams at once during a Web conference instead of just one. WebEx also added support for full-duplex voice over IP so multiple people can talk at once during a VOIP conversation.

WebEx Meeting Center is available as a hosted service and starts at $100 per concurrent user a month for the basic version or $200 per concurrent user a month for a premium version with desktop sharing and multipoint video included.

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