Cisco announced new features to its WebEx web meeting client and Jabber messenger today, in an attempt to compete with increasingly popular cloud storage companies such as Dropbox and Box.net.
“People who are using web conferencing have a challenge…the first ten minutes is [spent] figuring out who has what,”said Cisco’s Michael Smith.
That is to say, many meetings start with an agenda, there may be some files you want to share, a presentation to give, or a new manual to pass around. That requires finding the files, sharing the files with everyone at the meeting and re-sharing when someone at the meeting doesn’t have them. Not exactly arduous, but annoying enough to create a solution around it. Indeed, companies have found an easy was to share and find these files in solutions such as Dropbox and Box.net. Through these cloud services, you can place a file in a folder kept on a remote server, and give coworkers access to that folder. From there, PC users can grab the files whenever they want — whether connected to the internet or not through sync features — and mobile users can view them while connected to the web.
Cisco wanted its WebEx users to have similar integrations and created WebEx Spaces. The spaces allow meeting-goers early access to the meeting to share and grab files off of WebEx’s new cloud storage service. Anyone joining the meeting can take whatever documents they need straight from their PC or mobile device. Participants can collaborate and change the doc in the cloud as well. As with previous WebEx versions, you can also chat with participants, but the new pre-meeting feature has an activity stream, which allows you to send updates to meeting participants if necessary. The activity stream is particularly useful on mobile, as they translate into notifications or alerts leading up to the meeting.
The video quality has changed, as well, up to high definition, with the capability to connect to Cisco’s TelePresence meeting rooms. TelePresence is a high-tech conference room, which Cisco outfits with a number of screens set up to emulate physical presence. When you use the room for meetings, it seems as if the people are actually there, when in fact, they are sitting in a mirrored room somewhere else in the world.
WebEx has also changed its payments structure, and could be reeling in some smaller sized companies. Cisco is now offering a low level of WebEx for free. Up to three participants can hold a meeting without charge, with access to video, instant messaging, 250MG of storage and more.
The company has also made changes to its Jabber messaging and voice client, allowing users to access it over the web, as well as embed it directly into Gmail accounts. A software developer kit (SDK) for using Jabber in various web applications will be available in January.
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