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Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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WebEx Drops Pricing For SMBs

Companies get unlimited virtual meetings for up to 8 participants using the same software as large enterprises.

"People don't wake up every day and say to themselves 'You know what would make my day better? More meetings,'" quipped WebEx spokesperson Deborah Holstein via video call. "People hate meetings."

It's true. I can't stand meetings. If you say you love meetings, I'd say you're not being honest with yourself. They are often a monumental waste of valuable time that could otherwise be spent on more productive activities.

Meetings, however much we hate them, are an absolute necessity when it comes to business. Looking to take a little bit of the sting out of meetings, WebEx has just made it less expensive to videoconference your far-flung colleagues, partners, or customers.

Wednesday it introduced a new package called WebEx 8, which gives subscribers unlimited videoconferencing for up to eight people for $19 per month. (Previously, the lowest cost option was $49 per month for up to 25 participants.) Videoconferencing can help reduce travel budgets, while still allowing participants to see one another and get that visceral experience that is necessary for making certain business decisions. In other words, you get to look people in the eye without hopping on a plane.

With this new, lower price point, small and midsize business hosts can initiate a conference and invite seven other participants. If you think you're going to get stiffed on quality or features, guess again. The service itself is the same offered at higher price points.

WebEx 8 supports desktop sharing with any/all participants in a meeting. This means you can show off your prodigious PowerPoint skills, or any other content on the desktop, to the whole team. It offers high-quality video and shifts dynamically to focus on the participant who is speaking. Hosts can choose to record the meeting so it can be replayed or shared later. WebEx even offers additional tools to help polish conferences for use outside of your organization. Last, WebEx 8 syncs with Outlook's scheduling tools, making it easier to set up and schedule conferences and invitees.

In a demonstration of the service, WebEx showed me how it works. Using the WebEx desktop application for Mac, I was able to join a conference easily, configure my computer's built-in mic and camera, and voila, I could see and hear the other participants. When used in a small window on the desktop, it presents video of just one speaker at a time with a little window tucked in the corner so you can see yourself (remember to brush your hair and clean up the office before the meeting). I thought the quality was good, but not fantastic.

The video shows just the person who is speaking. If someone else in the meeting starts to speak, it switches the view to that person. In full-screen mode, the video chat box is significantly expanded and a carousel of six other participants is visible below it. I was hoping that the tool would allow me to see all eight participants at a time, but that's not the way it works. The speaker's video box is given preference, and all the others are secondary. Speaking of speakers, the audio quality was excellent. I was able to hear all the participants clearly, and the audio was consistent and didn't fade in or out.

The best part is that the videoconferencing tool works with the mobile version of WebEx on the iPad. That means you can fire up the meeting on your tablet and keep using your main PC to grab information as necessary. It also means you can join meetings while on the go, though airports and coffee shops may not be the best places to settle in for a video chat.

WebEx 8 is available online in the U.S. only.

You can't afford to keep operating without redundancy for critical systems--but business units must prioritize before IT begins implementation. Also in the new, all-digital InformationWeek SMB supplement: Avoid the direct-attached storage trap. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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