With their latest updates, Microsoft Corp. and WebEx Communications Inc. have improved the ease of use of their respective hosted Web conferencing services through new user interfaces and tighter telephony integration.
Updated last month, Microsoft Live Meeting 2005 includes several changes to the presenter and administrator tools that considerably improved the service in eWEEK Labs tests. Microsoft still has work to do, however, to make the system easier for professional presenters to manage.
In general, we liked the improvements made to WebEx, which was upgraded in February, but the product could also use more simplicity and flexibility when it comes to system management.
Live Meeting is priced on a concurrent-seat and per-minute basis. The Standard Edition costs $75 per user per month for concurrent seats or 35 cents per minute per participant. The Professional Edition costs $150 per user per month or 45 cents per minute per participant. Microsoft also offers monthly per-minute, shared-seat, room and named-user pricing plans.
WebEx is priced at $75 per user per month for 15-person meetings and 30 cents per minute. WebEx offers concurrent-user pricing starting at $100 per month and supports monthly per-minute and room pricing.
Both companies have added the ability to provide voice broadcasting via VOIP (voice over IP) as well as tighter integration of telephony-based voice conferencing.
Microsoft had the furthest to go to move Live Meeting from its beginning as an application intended for larger audiences to a more interactive collaborative platform, and it has made a number of big improvements. But this update is somewhat incomplete because integration with Office applications such as Outlook is still forthcoming. Microsoft officials said Office integration will be available in mid-June.
WebEx has also made improvements to core collaborative capabilities, but the changes are largely refinements, given the products broader reach from small to large meetings.
Companies looking at these Web-based conferencing technologies have dozens of options now, including hosted and on-premise solutions, so we recommend that anyone evaluating Web conferencing take a broad view of the market.
Some services offer tighter integration with voice-conferencing services, such as those from NetSpoke Inc., Interwise Inc. and Genesys S.A. (Read eWEEK Labs review of Genesys Meeting Center, Interwises ECP Connect and NetSpokes NetSpoke Conferencing Hub here.)
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