Microsoft retires NetMeeting

Microsoft Corp. is retiring its six-year-old NetMeeting online conferencing application and instead will push Office Live Meeting, formerly known as PlaceWare, for online meetings.

NetMeeting helped pioneer online conferencing when it was released in May 1996, before the advent of instant messaging (IM) and other services for real-time online communication. The software still ships as part of Windows and some of its features, such as whiteboarding and application-sharing, are used by the MSN Messenger and Windows Messenger IM applications.

But NetMeeting has served its purpose and will gradually be phased out, Microsoft spokesperson Stacy Drake said. Microsoft has already stopped development work on NetMeeting and links from MSN Messenger and Windows Messenger will be cut in future updates to those products, she said.

Instead, Microsoft’s IM applications will link to Office Live Meeting, Drake said. “Since buying PlaceWare we will focus our real time collaboration efforts on Office Live Meeting,” she said. Microsoft completed the acquisition of PlaceWare Inc. in April and launched a new version of the service in September.

Microsoft also plans to remove NetMeeting from its Web site, Drake said. The NetMeeting directory already appears to be gone, which means that users have to type in the IP address of the person they want to conference with. Drake could not give a timeframe for the NetMeeting phase-out, saying only that it would be “gradual.”

NetMeeting has been used mostly for online conferencing between small groups of people. Large companies like Dow Chemical Co. supported NetMeeting on thousands of PCs as a collaboration tool to save travel costs, according to a March 1998 Microsoft announcement.

Some businesses still use NetMeeting, although IM and Web conferencing products outclass it in terms of usability, analysts said.

“Should the industry mourn the loss of NetMeeting? No,” said Mike Gotta, senior vice-president at Meta Group Inc. “It was significant on the timeline and was widely used because there was no big alternative. For those who standardized on NetMeeting, this will force them to make what is a good decision anyway, which is to get off it.”

Robert Mahowald, a research manager at IDC, agreed. “It was never a very good conferencing tool. It was the kind of thing IT was reluctant to touch and users had to set up themselves,” he said. NetMeeting died when better, competing products such as IBM Corp.’s Lotus Sametime came out, he said.

NetMeeting’s retirement is unrelated to a patent infringement lawsuit involving the product that Microsoft lost earlier this month, the company said. A jury ordered the software maker to pay US$62.3 million in damages for infringing on a technology patent held by a division of manufacturing and technology company SPX Corp.

SPX subsidiary Imagexpo LLC sued Microsoft in October last year for infringing on its patent with the whiteboard feature of Microsoft’s NetMeeting. Microsoft contests the accusation.