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GnomeMeeting's PC Conferencing Alternative

The first official release of the open-source alternative to Microsoft's NetMeeting PC videoconferencing software has just rolled out of GnomeMeeting.org, the small open source group.

Version 1.0 of the GnomeMeeting software package is a H.323 videoconferencing application for Linux PCs that allows users to make audio and video calls over the Internet, as long as recipients are equipped with H.323-compatible equipment. (H.323 is a set of communications protocols used to transmit and receive audio and video information over the Internet.)

Notably, that group includes users of Netmeeting, which Microsoft is heavily marketing as its Internet conferencing solution. In a bid to expand its user base, Microsoft is bundling Netmeeting 3 into Windows 2000 and offering it as a free download to users of its other operating systems.

GnomeMeeting's roots are in a master's thesis project by computer science student Damien Sandras at the Universite Catholique de Louvain in Belgium; it has since evolved into a freestanding effort at Gnomemeeting.org. Version 1.0 of the software took three years to develop.

It is billed by the group as supporting all modern videoconferencing features, such as directory registration, gatekeeper support, and the ability to make multi-user conference calls.

To achieve Internet connectivity, GnomeMeeting rides atop an implementation of the H.323 protocol created by a group called OpenH323. The latter is a separate open-source project, coordinated by Quicknet Technologies Inc. (To run GnomeMeeting, users must have the freely available H.323 protocol stack installed on their Linux PCs.)

The Quicknet Technologies connection comes into play in GnomeMeeting's support for VoIP telephony. Users can make PC-to-PC phone calls with the software, but it's not exactly free. They must purchase an Internet phone jack and hardware card for about $160 to get started, and then call-time cards in increments of $25 or $50.

GnomeMeeting is distributed under the GPL "copyleft" software license. It can be downloaded from the GnomeMeeting.org site.

Historically, both GnomeMeeting and NetMeeting have their philosophical roots in CUseeMe. In the early 1990s, CUseeMe was the first Unix-era videoconferencing package to become popular. It was initially developed by White Pine Software, which became CUseeMe Networks and merged in 2001 with First Virtual Communications.

GnomeMeeting is separate from Gnome, but it is designed to work with the latters open-source Linux desktop.



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