RealTime IT News

Microsoft Schools TechEd on Web Conferencing

Microsoft  today introduced the next release of its Office Live Meeting 2007 Web conferencing software, a product the company hopes will compete with market leader WebEx.

Unveiled at the company's TechEd conference in Orlando, Fla., the new Web conferencing software includes a unified client that will be shared with Office Communications Server 2007, as well as support for two-way phone communications, including voice over IP (VoIP) .

The software also supports live webcams and multi-party video via the company's forthcoming RoundTable 360-degree conferencing camera.

"That's really nice for people to whom video is an important feature," Claire Schooley, senior industry analyst at Forrester Research, told internetnews.com.

Support for two-way phone calls and VoIP helps deal with real world conferencing situations.

"VoIP is becoming an integral part of collaboration and communications [because it] does provide lower costs," Roopam Jain, principal analyst with researcher Frost & Sullivan, told internetnews.com. That's particularly true, she said, when it comes to mitigating global companies' long distance bills.

Schooley agrees: "When you have a Web conference, you'll have people call in over all kinds of connections [and] that gives Microsoft much more flexibility that they didn't have before."

Other new features include the ability to record conferences that use rich media, improved training capabilities such as advanced testing and grading, and support for Flash audio and video files.

Additionally, the recording capabilities have been enhanced to support "more granular" playback options.

"You can search by slide, by presenter or time in a meeting," Roger Murff, director of marketing for Microsoft's Unified Communications group, told internetnews.com.

Live Meeting 2007 will also add the ability to scan all files uploaded to the service for malware using Microsoft Forefront security, Murff said.

But analysts disagree over whether the update will give Microsoft a leg up on its main competitor in the Web conferencing arena, WebEx, which Cisco  just acquired for $3.2 billion .

While some of the new features help to give Microsoft parity with WebEx, that's not who is most likely to lose share going forward, said one analyst.

"Would this put Microsoft in a position to take market share away from WebEx? I don't know," Mike Gotta, principal analyst at researcher Burton Group, told internetnews.com.

Gotta's argument is that companies that are using WebEx already are not likely to switch and the same is true of existing Live Meeting customers. And while WebEx is the dominant player in the market, Microsoft comes in at a strong second place.

"[The update] puts more pressure on companies like Adobe and other smaller vendors that are trying to differentiate themselves in the market," Gotta added.

Office Live Meeting 2007 is currently in a private beta test. Current Live Meeting customers can register to participate in a private preview of Live Meeting 2007, which will be available by the end of June, Murff added.