The attack on paid software and services continues.
In general, free and open-source software isn’t yet robust enough to stop the corporate dollars flowing to Redmond. Nor are shallow-pocketed companies likely to try, since the development effort to match feature for feature is just too much. Heck, most of these companies may be gone in a few years if they don’t make the transition to an ad-supported or paid-tier model. Or get bought for their codebase and user list, like Writely. But for now, it’s a good time for entrepreneurs, consultants and startups.
Here’s one example why. Zoho is a suite of free web-based productivity apps (like Google’s Docs etc). They’ve been around for about a year, and in that time have built a remarkable array of services. The only one I’ve looked closely at is their desktop sharing product, called Meeting.
A WebEx Replacement?
Meeting had an immediate appeal to me. Hours after first learning about Zoho (in a TechCrunch comment), I had been telephone-training a couple of people how to operate Drupal, my pet web-based content management system. Ted and Nina and I got through the training adequately, but since it was conference-call-based, there were the usual, “Er, what page are you looking at?” moments.
Desktop sharing services like WebEx and GoToMeeting are the preferred tool for this kind of remote demo and training. They work well. I would have no problem paying the $40/month (or WebEx’s per/minute/attendee fee) if I had regular high-leverage webinars or demos to host. But for a casual training session with Ted and Nina, can the free tool do the job just as well?
The answer is “apparently, yes.” It worked like a charm on the first swing.
The abridged process: 1) Presenter creates a free Zoho account. 2) Presenter installs a browser plugin, if it’s his first time. 3) Presenter clicks to start a meeting, and enters email addresses of invitees. 4) Invitees get the email, click on a URL, and once on the Zoho site click on the Join button.
Running a desktop sharing app for a meeting always introduces some complexity, but Zoho is worth a go for your next training session. Plus, you can’t beat free.