Calling all the shots

With more pressure on companies to executive cut travel budgets and reduce environmentally damaging air travel, video conferencing looks to be emerging as a real alternative to face-to-face meetings. Adrian Bridgwater looks at some of the vendors that are leading this growing sector.

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By  Adrian Bridgwater Published  January 25, 2009

A cheaper alternative altogether

While Cisco and Sony also provide high-end to SMB-level video-conferencing products, there is a stream of cheaper and in some cases even open source technologies that are, for many, very workable low cost alternatives to telepresence systems.

In some cases these ‘quick and dirty' alternatives are gaining popularity because bandwidth is now supporting a far higher level of usability than ever before. So web applications that we are comfortable with such as Yahoo! Instant Messanger suddenly become very workable when combined with a laptop or desktop webcam.

Of course, these kinds of IM tools can be paired with products such as Microsoft Office Live Meeting to provide a hosted web conferencing service suitable for online meetings, training and other events. Coming in its own box (rather than its own room) this product is widely agreed to provide a fairly workable enterprise-class hosted service.

If you are Microsoft-phobic then there's always the free open source Dimdim.com that can host web conferences with up to 20 people. You could also use a service like Adobe Acrobat Connect with an IM-driven web cam and a hosted collaboration service like Huddle.net and would probably have a fairly impressive arsenal of connectivity.

Proponents of virtual world Second Life say that its online interactive environment is suitable for enterprise-level web meetings - but for most, this is a step too far.

There will always be some interest in telepresence, desktop-based web conferencing will get better, new generations will be comfortable working with virtualised worlds and, most of all, face-to-face contact will remain irreplaceably important. It's a safe bet to say that the handshake will not become obsolete.

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