Web Conferencing Systems That Can Save SMBs Time And Money

Small businesses, generally speaking, have more interaction with individuals outside of their companies than do enterprises, where a large number of employees simply interact with other internal employees behind a firewall. Often, that interaction means face-to-face meetings.

But with today's new online Web conferencing offerings for small business, business meetings with clients and contacts can be conducted affordably, on the spot. These services can resold by VARs to customers, and also used by solution providers themselves. In addition, educators can use these Web conferencing meeting services to teach students, while human resources departments can use Web conferencing to streamline employee training.

Following are four popular Web conferencing systems. Each have subtle differences and advantages, and all offer free trials so you (and your customers) can jump online, rather than onboard, as soon as you like.

This on-demand Web conferencing tool is browser based, and includes audio and video conferencing in its flat fee charge. It also offers application/desktop sharing, file transfer, moderator functions, online chat (both individual and group). Those in a HearMe-hosted meeting can view other room participants using webcams, as well as share documents and desktop applications with an unlimited number of participants. With built-in VoIP capabilities and full duplex audio, HearMe eliminates the need for a conference phone bridge line, decreasing costs for SMB's and enterprises alike. Offers a reseller program and an affiliate program.

System requirements: 256MB of RAM and any processor that supports the SSE2 instruction set. These include Intel Pentium 4 and later processors, and with AMD Athlon 64 and Opteron and later processors. Browser must support ActiveX controls.

Fees: Monthly: $29, unlimited meetings for up to 5 attendees; $49, includes unlimited meetings for 10 attendees; charges grow incrementally to $449/month for 150 attendees. Larger rooms and custom solutions available. Annual plan savings of 20% are available.

Now owned by Cisco, the WebEx MeetMeNow Web conferencing tool includes audio and video conferencing in its flat fee charge. It also offers application/desktop sharing, online chat (both individual and group), file transfer, moderator functions. Offers a reseller program. Very good email support.

One caveat is that this particular service can only accommodate up to 10 attendees per meeting. If your client thinks there may be times more than 10 people will be involved in a meeting, it's best to go with an application that can scale up, including Cisco's other service, WebEx.

Supported platforms and browsers: Windows 98, Windows Vista, NT 4.0 SP6, 2000, XP (Home and Pro), 2003, IE 6 or later, Netscape 4.7 or later, Firefox 1.0 or later, and Mozilla 1.6 or later.

Fees: Monthly: $39 with prepaid annual plan for up to 10 attendees; $49 includes unlimited meetings for 10 attendees.

GoToMeeting is one in a series of Web conferencing products brought to you from Citrix (the company that offers GoToMyPC). Services differ depending on the client's needs. GoToMeeting is for the most intimate gatherings: up to 15 attendees. GoToWebinar scales to 100 attendees, while GoToWebinar Corporate is meant for meetings of up to 1,000. Offers reseller program.

System requirements: Internet Explorer 5.0 or newer, Netscape 6.0 or newer, Mozilla Firefox 1.0 or newer (JavaScript and Java enabled); Windows' 2000, XP, 2003 Server or Vista; Stable 56k, cable modem, ISDN, DSL, or better Internet connection; minimum of Pentium 400 MHz with 256 MB of RAM (recommended). MacIntosh users can attend but not organize a meeting.

Fee: Monthly: $39 with prepaid annual plan for up to 15 attendees; $49 on month-to month basis. Unlimited meetings for an unlimited duration are included in the fee.

This Web conferencing tool offers live and recorded video, chat, slide and application sharing, VoIP and PSTN audio, and audience feedback tools. Microsoft Office Live helps small businesses to interact with clients, partners, and customers online, using Microsoft Office System products such as Windows SharePoint Services (WSS).

Supported Platforms: Windows 2000; Windows 98 Second Edition; Windows Server 2003; Windows Vista; Windows XP

Fees: Monthly: $4.58 per user. Minimum of five users, maximum of 15 participants. The Professional User plan is $15.42 per user and scales to 1,250 participants, and includes recorded sessions.