Virtual travellers can also face bad weather

Forget the red eye, being fogged-in or losing your luggage. Give it all up for a chance to spend an hour looking at a screen that says, “Joining Conference, please wait.”

PlaceWare Inc.’s Web conferencing software claims to leave the haggard days of airplane travel behind. No more jet lag or missed connections, say the champions of Web conferencing. But when ComputerWorld Canada tried to sit in on a conference demonstrating Version 3.5 of the Mountain View, Calif.-based company’s Conference Center software, it was a bumpy ride.

“We are in beta right now,” one of the conference organizers for PlaceWare explained over the telephone-portion of the conference.

Conference organizers also added that they were having trouble with their server that day.

“We don’t control Internet weather, so if someone has a bad Internet connection we can’t control that, but the software is very reliable,” said marketing communications manager Kathryn Romley.

In fact, according to PlaceWare, the software has a success rate of 98 per cent.

The latest version, which is now available, features live demonstration capabilities. Software companies can now demonstrate new software and upgrades through Web conferencing, eliminating the need to co-ordinate busy schedules and paying for expensive flights and hotels, according to PlaceWare.

Conference Center uses multi-byte message streaming technology to pre-cache images, allowing audience members to get images instantaneously. As the demonstrator moves the mouse or types on the keyboard, LiveDemo captures the movement.

“Someone looking over your shoulder is probably the best analogy I can give you. So if you were standing behind me right now as I’m working on an application, it’s the same thing you would be seeing if you were experiencing LiveDemo through PlaceWare,” Romley said.

For companies who use audio conference calls, PlaceWare’s Conference Center adds “rich visuals and high interactivity,” according to the company’s CEO and president Barry James Folsom.

Presenters no longer have to give static slide presentations but can add annotations, conduct polls and insert a Web site on the fly, Romley said.

Up to 1,000 people can sit in on a PlaceWare conference simultaneously. The software can recognize client connection speed and deliver the presentation in an optimized frame rate for each audience member so that everyone stays in synch throughout the presentation.

Also, audience members can pose electronic questions which can be answered during the presentation either by the presenter or other moderators. The answers can be sent to everyone or replied to individually. The software can also capture and broadcast any image or application on the computer screen, according to the company. The presentation can be recorded and replayed at anytime.

“The key thing with PlaceWare is now they’ve added application sharing capabilities,” said Mike Comiskey, a senior analyst for Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp.

And that, plus its ability to cross firewalls, gives it an edge over other Web conferencing products, he said.

But still, with all its advantages, Romley admits PlaceWare Conference Center can’t fully eliminate the need for travelling and meeting with people in person. “We don’t claim to take the place of face-to-face meetings, but since we’re going to a global economy and customers and partners, as well as employees, are geographically dispersed all over, it’s meeting the needs of people working together apart. This is a way to connect,” Romley said.

Susan Englehutt, the director of field marketing at Ottawa-based JetForm Corp., said that while PlaceWare definitely has a place in today’s global economy, it also has its limitations.

“There certainly needs to be a balance. A lot of a relationship with individuals is being able to see the whites of their eyes. But I think there’s definitely times when that isn’t necessary,” said the director whose company has been using the Conference Center since December 1998 to meet both with clients and other employees.

The Conference Centre ( is available for $300 per seat per year. Seats at hosted events are $375 each.

PlaceWare in Mountain View, Calif., is at (650) 526-6100.