With the addition of video communications, Microsoft Corp.'s NetMeeting is shaping up to be a much more comprehensive collaboration tool.
PC Week Labs examined NetMeeting Version 2.0 Beta 2, which is available for download this week from www.microsoft.com/netmeeting. In addition to adding video to existing audio and data conferencing tools, Microsoft has tweaked NetMeeting's user interface and made it easier to deal with missed calls. NetMeeting 2.0 is scheduled to ship in the first quarter of next year.
NetMeeting 2.0 Beta 2's video is based on the H.323 standard. H.323 audio had already been offered in the previous beta release of NetMeeting 2.0, released in October.
NetMeeting's support for H.323, which is oriented toward low-bandwidth connections over analog telephone lines, will allow it to interoperate with products from the large number of conferencing vendors implementing the standard, including PictureTel Corp. and Creative Labs Inc.
The quality of NetMeeting's video, while far below that of ISDN-based videoconferencing systems such as Intel Corp.'s ProShare, was usable for seeing the faces of other conference participants during PC Week Labs tests. Video calls currently can be placed between two NetMeeting users. Multiparticipant videoconferences require specialized third-party bridge hardware.
With Beta 2, Microsoft also has expanded NetMeeting's reach beyond Windows 95 to include Windows NT 4.0 as a client. NT users, however, will not be able to share applications with other NetMeeting users since NT requires new APIs that won't be available until the first quarter of next year.
This version of NetMeeting addresses some outstanding housekeeping details.
In previous versions, for example, NetMeeting had no way of recording unsuccessful calls. The new call log in Beta 2 showed incomplete communications, allowing us to contact those callers. We also could leave an E-mail message when we were unable to connect to another NetMeeting user.
Senior Analyst Matt Kramer can be reached at email@example.com.