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PC users, can we talk?

Vendors announce a bevy of low-cost Internet conferencing products: an Internet videophone from Intel, a new version of Microsoft's NetMeeting, and videoconferencing software from VocalTec.

A bevy of low-cost Internet conferencing products, including an Internet videophone from Intel (INTC), a new version of Microsoft's (MSFT) NetMeeting, and videoconferencing software from VocalTec were announced today.

The Intel Video Phone will allow users to see and hear each other while using applications such as games and Web browsers, according to the company. The Internet videophone supports the recently established H.323 international communication standard and will interoperate with other H.323 products, Intel said. It also supports full-duplex audio.

The software is designed as a "helper" applet that is compatible with Netscape's Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer browsers. The video windows are added on to the bottom edge of the browser and it has a quick dial list for frequently used numbers.

Intel says the videophone works on systems that have at least a 133-MHz Pentium processor and 16MB RAM, Windows 95, and a PC video camera with video compression hardware. A beta version of the Internet videophone is available for free downloading off Intel's Web site.

Microsoft has also announced simultaneously that it has released version 2.0 beta 2 of its NetMeeting conferencing software. Microsoft NetMeeting is a real-time communications client application for consumer and business communications.

NetMeeting offers whiteboard, chat, Internet phone, and application sharing, among other features. NetMeeting is targeted at companies who need to integrate real-time communication and collaboration in their business applications, custom in-house solutions, existing conferencing products, and Web sites. The NetMeeting conferencing platform is at the core of Microsoft's multimedia Internet communications strategy.

Similar to the Intel Video Phone, Microsoft's NetMeeting is based on International Telecommunications Union (ITU) standards and Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) specifications including the H.323 standard for audio and videoconferencing, RTP/RTCP for providing real-time quality connections over the Internet, and the Microsoft User Location Service (ULS) extensions to the LDAP standard directory services protocol. In addition, Microsoft NetMeeting 2.0 supports the T.120 standard for multipoint data conferencing.

Microsoft NetMeeting 2.0 beta 2 is available now for download free of charge from Microsoft's NetMeeting Web site.

In related news, VocalTec introduced Internet Phone with Video, a major enhancement to its Internet telephony software package, Internet Phone Release 4. Internet Phone with Video delivers live video communications over regular modem connections, a low-cost alternative to expensive videoconferencing systems.

Like the Intel Video Phone, VocalTec's software enables users to simultaneously talk and see one another in real time for the cost of the Internet connection.

VocalTec today also introduced a publicly available beta version of Internet Phone Release 4 for Windows 3.1. This new release, available for downloading from VocalTec's Web site, extends VocalTec's cross-platform support for Windows computers. It also allows users who rely on Windows 3.1 to communicate with a large base of Internet telephony software users.