Adobe unveils Connect 8 Web, videconferencing tool

Adobe Systems today unveiled Adobe Connect 8, a Web conferencing tool that supports videoconferencing on desktops, in conference rooms and most mobile devices.

The update, the first since version 7.5 came out a year ago, includes an improved user interface the company said can cut down on technical worries with set-up and customization that seem inherent with many Web and videoconferencing systems, Adobe officials said.

Six-year-old Adobe Connect , which competes with Cisco Webex, Microsoft Live Meeting, Citrix GoToMeeting and multiple offerings from smaller players, has grown quickly especially since 2009 when bookings grew by 50% over the prior year. The technology is now used for about 140 million minutes of Web conferences each month, said Michael Londgren, director of product marketing for Adobe.

“What really sets us apart is ease of meeting access,” he said in an interview.

Londgren also noted that the product has benefited greatly from its ability to access a Web or video conference through the Adobe Flash Player plug-in.

Peter Ryce, Adobe’s Connect Evangelist, noted that updated offering allows companies to implement video conferencing without a major network upgrade. “We’re a lightweight system that’s optimized for low bandwidth,” he said. “We’re very network friendly. Our goal is to democratize the usage here — the only thing you need is a Flash player. We’re not competing with [high end] telepresence.”

He said many videoconferences work fine with 250 Kbit/sec of video bandwidth, with some down to 30 Kbit/sec.

The new Connect 8 user interface allows meeting hosts, trainers or presenters to quickly adjust meeting room layouts as needed. The new Connect version includes updated collaboration capabilities and adds two-way Universal Voice provides for two-way communications via Voice over IP and telephone.

Connect 8 also allows for the integration of Adobe Connect with third-party SIP-based H-264-compliant videoconferencing systems. Adobe is offering developers an SDK to create custom software to integrate Adobe Connect with other systems.

Connect 8 also includes the Adobe AIR -based Adobe Connected Desktop, which allows users to set up meetings from a desktop or download recorded sessions for later viewing.

Finally, the updated tool is integrated with Adobe Connect Mobile, allowing iPhone and iPad users to access live meetings and videoconferences. Other clients, such as Android smartphones, require Flash 10.1 for access.

Pricing starts at $500 per seat per year for a “Named Organizer” who works with up to 100 participants in a session. The previous version carries the same price tag. A hosted version of Connect 8.0 is priced at 32 cents a minute per user, with up to 500 users.

For on-premise systems, an enterprise server costs $20,000 and edge servers for distributing the access throughout a campus cost $10,000 apiece.

Connect 8 will be available by the end of November.

Adobe said that the system is used by large operations like Xerox Corp., a division within the Office of Public Health Preparedness in Michigan and the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency. Adobe said the defense suystems agency already has 380,000 active users and has run sessions with 40 cameras simultenously connected in a single session. “We’ve supported live Web cams from ships and planes, and we’re getting wide use there,” Londgren said.

Londgren noted that Adobe Connect was used to broadcast recent elections in Kazahkstan, supporting 11 different languages for text chat users.

Meanwhile, Borders Group uses Adobe Connect to increase access and cut the cost of employee training, according to Adobe.

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