I suppose that one of the biggest trends online right now is the move away from desktop-based applications to browser-based software. We have seen this trend growing especially as Google and Microsoft push their suites of office applications.
While I for one don’t foresee myself using only browser-based tools in preference to their fully featured desktop counterparts any time soon, the notion of having my documents, contacts and messages stored somewhere in ‘the cloud’ is an attractive proposition. I have moved over entirely to Gmail and I do use Google Docs regularly because it comes with me, wherever I may be.
This omnipresence of data is perhaps most useful in communications; that ability to get in touch with anyone anywhere and vise versa is attractive. It’s already here with browser-based IM and now there are some startups breaking the desktop-based ‘best-of-breed’ mould by going browser-based.
The Best Browser-based Video Conference Services
Whether you are looking to use a browser-based tool for conferencing with friends or for business, you’ll find a suitable service in this lot!
When it comes to browse-based video conference tools, this is the market leader. MegaMeeting is 100% browser-based, you install no software at all. That doesn’t mean it is lightweight no, on the contrary MegaMeeting is extremely well endowed with all the features you would expect or need: indeed MegaMeeting is a worthy alternative to WebEx and other business-targeted video conference apps. It can run on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux so no matter who you want to have participating in the conference, MegaMeeting will work. MegaMeeting also has integrated VoIP, application and screen sharing, remote desktop control and PowerPoint presentation capabilities. There can be up to 16 participants, but MegaMeeting also allows an unlimited number of observers. Versions are available for personal use, SMBs and large enterprises.
- Zoho Meeting
When it comes to browser-based office suites, Zoho is where it’s at. Yes, Google and Microsoft want a slice of the pie, but Zoho is really good. With Zoho Meeting it is easy to setup a conference, share your screen or make a presentation. Perhaps one of the best features is that this product integrates very well with the rest of the Zoho suite of applications. Skype is also integrated with Zoho Meeting, allowing you to discuss while presenting documents. Zoho Meeting can be used on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.
MeBeam offers online video meeting rooms that are simple to setup and join. It is more of a consumer oriented tool and isn’t really targeted at the full-blood business market, so don’t expect most of the features present in MegaMeeting. However, if you just want to quickly setup a room where friends of staff can congregate for a meeting, MeBeam is worth a look.
While it is most widely known as a browser-based IM client, Meebo can also do video chat. Initially Meebo only did one-to-one video chat but then integrated TokBox (more details below) and can now handle a video conference with up to 6 contacts from any IM network. It’s free, it’s easy, requires very little effort and is reliable. Meebo is a pretty good option.
This is Web 2.0 video conferencing at its best with a social twist. TokBox are funded by the same VCs who invested in YouTube. It is completely browser-based and the player can actually be embedded into any page, including blogs and social network profiles. What’s particularly good about TokBox is that you can record video messages which can be delivered should the other party not be there. TokBox can and does provide multi-party video conferencing; you can either use the “Conference” link to get a persistent conference room, or you can just dial in more people when you’re in a one-on-one call to add more people on-the-fly.
This relatively new browser-based web conference tool is really simple to use. To get a conference up and running all you need to do is plug in your camera, give your meeting room a name and start your meeting. It’s simple for others to join too, just give them your meeting room URL. There is an upcoming premium version with more features including your own subdomain, voice only participants, access control and higher quality AV for a reasonable monthly fee.
This is a relatively new entrant to the browser-based web conference sector, but it does exactly what it says on the tin. You can conference with up to 5 others simultaneously for up to one hour per session on either Windows or Mac OS X. PalBee also has an online whiteboard to drawing and sharing ideas. Interestingly, you can actually record a video conference and play it back later. Conferences can be made public or kept private. PalBee also have a little widget allowing you to embed recorded conferences on your blog or page.
So I hear you asking; give me the benefits of taking conferencing off the desktop? Well, off the top of my head, here are 3 of the best reasons.
- Simplicity – these browser-based video conferencing tools are very simple to use, more so than your typical IM client.
- Compatibility – because they run in the browser, there is no problem with OS compatibility.
- Omni-accessible – as long as you have a webcam and internet connection, you can hold a conference.
It’s not all sweetness and light though. There are things that can be done with a desktop-based app that either aren’t currently possible or lacks performance in the browser.
- Speed – nobody wants to wait around. When it comes down to it, desktop-based video conference services still have the upper hand in terms of speed.
- Quality – if you are using a browser-based video conference service for fun then you’ll not care about the typically poorer quality video and audio (MegaMeeting excluded), but business users will.
- Features – when you do a like-for-like comparison between the feature sets of browser and desktop video conference apps, you’ll typically find that (other than MegaMeeting) the desktop-based solution wins hands down.