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12th Annual Well-Connected Awards: Messaging and Collaboration

Well Connected Awards 2006

Messaging and collaboration products are all about facilitating communications. In the past year, we've tested hundreds of such products. The winners let co-workers, customers and partners share ideas and data seamlessly and effectively.


Communication, of course, goes beyond the printed or spoken word. Technologies like Web conferencing, videoconferencing and streaming media help convey vocal inflection, gestures, body language and tone. If that's too touchy-feely to justify the expense, consider that the ability to see a person, view presentations, scribble on virtual whiteboards and work with physically distant co-workers is all part of the digital communications revolution. And instant messaging has helped colleagues keep in contact and form bonds, both formally and informally, with less interruption than phone calls.

Outside the office, your customers have more ways to contact you. E-mail, Web chats, IM, faxes and phone calls are all points of contact. A customer may initially e-mail you to request a price quote, then call to complete the sale. If your agents can't reference the original e-mail to give the same quote over the phone, you might frustrate the customer or lose the sale.

The rise of IP networking has fueled these new collaborative technologies. We now have enough bandwidth and advanced compression algorithms to send decent real-time video across the Internet for videoconferencing. Polycom's VSX 5000, for instance, proved ideal for conducting conferences with minimal setup. Streaming media, however, still leaves much to be desired. During testing, we asked our editors to judge the quality of each vendor's streaming video and nobody was overly impressed. Streams still dropped, quality of service wasn't great and picture quality was so-so. Fortunately, our highest-ranking streaming server, Apple Darwin Streaming Server, is free. Meanwhile, audio and video podcasts have potential to change the streaming market. Many people prefer to download podcasts, to avoid dealing with buffering, dropped streams and lag.

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