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There are tens of different software and services that allows to hold a meeting, a conference or a webinar, however it’s not easy to understand what is the product that fulfills your needs. So we have selected and tried the most interesting and complete software of this sector for you.

The two terms we’ve just used (meetings and webinars) both describe, albeit with little differences, the two main situations where such software are implied. In the first case it’s essentially an easy and handy method to make an online meeting by sharing the screen, files or images. The number of participants is usually limited and interaction is high: for instance, anyone can take control of the presentation and everybody can talk at the same time.
Conversely, in the case of webinars (a portmanteau between the word Web and seminar) the number of participants can be very high, even hundreds, while the level of interaction lowers as usually the speakers are a limited group of people.

The use of these technologies brings advantages in logistical terms and cost-reduction as it can cancel geographical distances with the aim of a computer or a portable device like a smartphone or a tablet.

Types of infrastructures and supported platforms

The vast majority of software we have tried is sold as a service, with a monthly price calculated usually on the number of participants. Only a few software are sold with a license (that is paid once). Some applications like WebEx by Cisco offer an as-a-Service version and an on-premises version, called WebEx meeting Server). The same holds for ScreenConnect by Connectwise, which is a product aimed to remote control but also includes some specific features for online meetings (we have covered it in the previous article on MSP platforms).

All operators offer traffic encryption with 128 or 256 bit AES protocols and don’t require particular network configurations, even in business contexts with firewalls. It’s interesting the opportunity given by some software to leverage the Single Sign On (SSO) in Active Directory environments, so that the already present authentication system can be maintained.

webex3

The browser-based approach (native or with dedicated plugins) is very popular, and in some cases a dedicated client must be installed. Luckily the support for the main desktop (Windows, Mac and Linux) and mobile (Android, iOS and Windows Phone) platforms is excellent for most products. Cisco even offers a mobile client for Blackberry, an obsolete platform. There’s also an integration with MS Office, in particular with Outlook thanks to a plugin.

Screenshot 2016 09 30 11 49 03

Audio, video and sharing features

One of the key features of an online collaboration platform is being able to see the interlocutors and today we can talk about high definition video streaming. In a tuition context, recording the session is fundamental: some products offer a local only recording (TeamViewer), others offer a Cloud recording that can be then downloaded (GotoWebinar and GotoMeeting), and some others (Skype for Business with Azure) directly offer the streaming of the recorded session.

webwx3

Remote control and contents sharing (documents, images, audio/video files, etc..) are two other important features that further enrich real time collaborations and the exchange of material and information. Screen sharing, also in multi-monitor mode, is very useful too, because it can show the content of one’s own work to the other participants.

Some software also offer an integrated chat (according to the chosen version or with a plugin) and a “drawing feature” that allows to draw on the screen with a digital blackboard.

User management, access mode and customization

The simplest scenario involves a speaker interacting with an audience. The number of speakers can increase up to the point where the seminar itself needs to transfer control from a speaker to the other. For this reason a management with different access levels is implemented: it starts with a user-speaker basic configuration up to the creation of environments where speakers can transfer the control of the session, or even temporarily give it to a participant.

goto7

Once the working scenario is defined, we need to allow users to access the session. In this phase there are essentially three approaches, often overlapped: providing an invite via email (with a direct link to the webinar), connecting with the client or having a “room” that can be reached with a static Web address (for instance, GotoMeeting offers an URL with the scheme example.gotomeet.me). In this last case, some platforms offer a “waiting room” where collaborators can connect to before the presentation goes online.

zoho2 evo

Some platforms (Adobe Connect, Anymeeting Pro and TeamViewer in their pricier versions) offer the setup of multiple rooms for simultaneous webinars and meetings. The Outlook integration we cited before is really useful, it allows to schedule sessions in the calendar with notifications.

Most services we cover also offer (integrated or paid) an access to the webinar with a phone number. This system allows to participate to the session without an Internet connection, for instance in case of emergency or accident, simply by calling a specific number. As added webinar feature, with some platforms it’s possible to ask participants to fill a survey at the end of the session, thus offering an immediate feedback.
Graphic customization -branding with own logo and colours- of the user interface is an option often available.

Subscriptions, prices and support

Subscriptions for products sold as service are monthly, monthly with a year paid in advance or annual. However a monthly approach is suggested in some situations: for instance, when the usage is scarce or concentrated in limited and defined periods of the year (eg courses with precise dates, established with a proper advance). Products sold with a license require the payment for the renewal which gives access to all updates and new versions released the first year after the original purchase.

screenconn

And here’s now the comparative table: we have compared the ten main products of this sector.

Product
FeatureAdobe ConnectAnymeeting Meetixg ProCisco WebExGotoMeetingGotoWebinarHangoutSkype For BusinessScreenconnectTeamViewerZoho Meeting Pro
Audio and HD Videovvvvvvvvvx
Session recording/downloadv/vv/xv/vv/vv/vxv/xv/xv/vv (only audio)
Surveysxxxvvxvxxx
File sharingvvvxxvvvvx
Access levelvxvvvvvvvv
Text chatvWith pluginvvvvvvvv
Remote commandsxxvvxxxvvv
Schedulingxxvvvxvxvv
Browser access (with plugin)vvvvvvvvxv
Screen sharingvvvvvvvvvv
Blackboardxxvv (plus)vxxv verificavx
Participants limit2530100 (Meetings)50/100100/50025250infiniti25100
OS mobile (Android/iOS/Windows Phone)vvv + BBvvvvvvv
OS PC (Lixux/Win/Mac)allallallallallallallallallall
Office integrationvvvvxvvxvx
SSO (optional, according to the version)vxvvxxvvxx
Multi-roomvvv??xv3 only topv
EncryptionvvvAES-128AES-128vvAES-256AES-256AES-128
Branding (white label)vvvvvxxvvv
On-premises versionvxWebEv mettings ServerxxxxPerpetual/legacyxx
Access URLvvvv GoToMeet.MExxxxxx
Phone accessvvvvvxvxvv – paid
Subscription typeMonthly/annualMonthly/annualMonthly/annualMonthly/annualMonthly/annual (yearly commitment)Monthly/annualMonthly/annual (yearly commitment)Monthly/annualLicense + updates freeMonthly/annual
Price (monthly/annual)50/45 $18 $38/30 $249/199 €59/49 €4,00 € user/month4,60 € user/month42/35 $1149 € with options12/115 $
Dedicated phone supportxxxxxvvxvx

About the Author

Lorenzo Bedin

Lorenzo graduated in Telecommunication Engineering and works as freelance IT consultant, after a period of training as systems analyst. Currently he provides hardware solutions, virtualized infrastructures and websites.

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