Speaking with the World: Part II

Yesterday focused on MSN Messenger which certanly came in handy for quite a period of time pre-launch (and post-launch for mostly internal reasons). As conference calls started getting bigger, and the people on the other end were no longer co-workers, consultants and “friendlies” we needed to move to a more sophisticated and professional solution.

ASAP Pro: A friend highly recommended a solution called “ASAP Pro”, developed by a company called Convoq. Instant Messaging components aside ASAP and Messenger’s functionality are very, very similar (Judging by their system requirements and some pieces of the application I suspect they’re built of many of the same components.)

ASAP integrates with existing IM applications on your system and lets you invite contacts directly through IM, you can also e-mail an invitation link to any other user whether they have an IM or not.

Like MSN the Video portion only works entirely when there’s a one-to-one meeting. IN that case you can see each other’s webcams. Once a third person (or more) joins, only the user designated as having the “podium” is broadcast to all other users.

Again you can share applications just like MSN – additionally you can share a PowerPoint presentation with the conference. The drawback is you need to import the presentation, which then gets converted into a proprietary format for presentation. But if that annoys you, you can always just share the PowerPoint app, you just lose some annotation functionality etc.

Setup, installation and usage is dead-easy. There’s a small application for the host to install and run but meeting participants don’t need to install any software. MSN should also take a page from the ASAP book when it comes to getting through firewalls for Audio/Video & Application sharing. We tested both ASAP and MSN head-to-head within our own office. We never could get MSN to connect but ASAP worked flawlessly every time. This is a major reason why we went with ASAP initially – the $50 was worth it just for the reliable connection between meeting participants.

ASAP isn’t free, but it’s certainly affordable. You have two options with ASAP Pro, you can license it monthly (Approx. $50/month) or pre-pay for a year (approx. $500). With that license you can basically use it as often as you want, the only limitation being that you can only have up to 15 participants. After 15 you pay a nominal per minute fee for each additional participant.

The one spot where ASAP really falls short is it’s reliance solely on VoIP technology for the audio. The only way to communicate within ASAP is in the form of a microphone plugged into your computer. There’s no “land-line” phone option. so while there’s no install to perform there is a small hardware hit. We found quite often that we used ASAP for application sharing & video conference but then used our phone system and did the audio portion of our calls the old fashion way – at additional cost if we had to use a conference call system.

Overall we liked the ASAP solution – the lack of any conference call support was probably the one thing that kept us hunting for another solution. Are we entirely done with ASAP? I wouldn’t say we are for certain – but I’ll explain more about that in tomorrow’s entry when I look at the third solution we encountered.

PROS: CONS:
– Reasonably Priced
– No install required for meeting participants
– Connections are reliable & consistent
– No Land-line Phone Support