Web collaboration tools (web conferencing services and software, web events, and remote support) have exploded in recent years to take advantage of broadband connectivity, large-format flat-panel displays, and plummeting costs. The tools have evolved from early peer-to-peer desktop conferencing tools and simple server-based collaboration tools to today’s scalable, platform-independent applications assimilating instant-messaging services. Using real-time communication, they have become a sophisticated service platform for custom development. Frost & Sullivan, a global market research firm focused on growth technologies, has forecast that the global web collaboration market excluding eLearning and distance learning applications will reach $4.5 billion by 2014. The current market is dominated by five key enterprise vendors: Adobe, Cisco, Citrix, IBM, and Microsoft.
I believe that Adobe Connect is the best-of-breed web conferencing solution, and it has earned a 2011 PC Magazine Editors’ Choice Award. Adobe Connect has evolved into three specialized interfaces: Adobe Connect for Web Meetings, Adobe Connect for eLearning, and Adobe Connect for Webinars. All are based on Adobe Flash technology, so they deliver rich interactions that participants easily can join. Adobe Connect enables you to keep your teams and client relationships moving forward by meeting in the cloud anytime from anywhere—even from any mobile device. With best-in-class mobile support, Adobe Connect Mobile 1.7.5 permits you to host meetings from your smartphone or tablet, including devices running on Apple iOS, Google Android, and BlackBerry, and your colleagues can participate in your meetings from these platforms as well.
As PC Magazine notes, Adobe Connect has become the solution to beat. Users not only can videoconference, they can share and annotate files, videos, and each other’s desktops, and even can rearrange the look and feel of the space to suit their needs. Simply stated, it offers effortless compatibility with virtually every platform you and your meeting participants are likely to use.
Before starting Adobe Connect, you should run the Adobe Connect Meeting Connection Diagnostic, which will enable you to download and install the latest Adobe Connect add-in for your browser, required to share your screen in an Adobe Connect meeting.
When it comes to initially setting up a meeting as an administrator, Adobe asks that you commit more forethought than competitors such as Citrix’s GoToMeeting, which makes starting a meeting a one-click proposition. As a result, with Adobe Connect you should plan your meetings well in advance until you are so conversant with the application that you could set up a new meeting in your sleep. Once you have done so, however, you need not do so again for the same group. Meeting rooms are persistent. Therefore, after completing the initial setup process, you’ll have one-click access via a static URL.
The setup process requires you to complete the following: name the meeting, customize the URL, set a start time and duration, choose from one of three standard templates (Event, Meeting, Training), select a language (English is the default), assign access rights (the meeting can be open to registered users only, registered users and accepted guests, or anyone with the URL), and add audio-conferencing details (beyond Adobe’s VoIP service). Then there is a second screen from which to define members and access rights.
Adobe Connect is considerably more user friendly for notifying participants, thanks to an abundance of plug-ins. Whether your office relies on Microsoft Outlook or even Lotus Notes, Adobe offers add-ins to make invitations easy. Using your existing address book and e-mail client, you can invite colleagues, who receive a simple e-mail with one-click meeting room access.
You can change the look and feel of your meeting room. You not only have custom URLs for your meetings (e.g., adobe.acrobat.com/name), you can brand the spaces with a business header or custom background image. From the menus you can access global controls for meeting parameters and layouts (Sharing, Discussion, and Collaboration). Participants can use icons to enable audio- and videoconferencing, disable speakers or microphones, and passively interact through emoticons (Adobe bundles icons for hand-raising, agreeing, disagreeing, leading, applauding, laughing, and many more). Use pods (context-sensitive windows that you can show, hide, move, or stack atop one another) to share files (Share), play videos (Video), engage in general or individual chat (Chat) in the for-fee plans, or conduct large-group functions such as polling, Q&A, whiteboards, and note-taking. Larger groups will love the Breakout feature, through which a handful of participants can spin off without permanently leaving the meeting space.
Adobe Connect’s default communications profile is VoIP, which is great if your computer or device has a built-in microphone and speakers (or audio output). If you prefer dial-up connections, they are a bit trickier to set up. On the other hand, Adobe Connect has stellar videoconferencing, supporting multiple simultaneous video feeds without degradation of the connection by using dedicated servers to support your conference. It will easily display four simultaneous high-resolution video streams arriving from mixed platforms, browsers, and connection types. Sessions can be recorded to the Adobe servers and replayed as streaming video or recorded to your desktop for offline playback.
Finally, Adobe Connect is widely scalable. Scale it to the occasion using customizable layouts and contextual pods. Scale it to your group, as the application can support up to 100 concurrent users (points of access).
Adobe Connect is free for two-user, feature-restricted conferencing. The Basic Plan (up to five users) is $14.99 per month. The Plus Plan for small businesses (up to 20 concurrent users) is $32.50 per month, billed annually at $390 per year. Full pricing and features can be found on the Adobe website. For even more information, check out the Adobe Connect Users Community, which features a learning center, downloads, and forums.
Plan for the future by switching to this best-of-breed application today.