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Web conferencing market heats up

Market leader WebEx announces an alliance with Salesforce.com, while Macromedia offers free trials of its new Breeze service.

Competition in the growing Web conferencing market picked up Monday, with market leader WebEx announcing a partnership with Salesforce.com and Macromedia offering free trials of its new Breeze service.

WebEx Communications, the leading provider of services for presenting multimedia presentations and other business communication functions over the Web, announced its MediaTone communications network will be integrated with services from Salesforce.com, which sells Web-based customer relationship management (CRM) services.

WebEx said that by integrating communications capabilities with its CRM services, Salesforce.com can cover a broader range of sales-related activities. "The combination of our leading Web communications capabilities with Salesforce.com's proven CRM service will support all stages of the sales cycle," WebEx CEO Subrah Iyar said in a statement.

The worldwide market for Web conferencing services is expected to grow to $700 million this year, from $480 million a year ago, according to estimates by researcher The Yankee Group. Microsoft roiled the market last year with its acquisition of PlaceWare, services that have since been revamped as Live Meeting, part of a broad effort to build real-time communications services on top of the software giant's dominant Office software.

Macromedia also entered the Web conferencing market recently with Breeze, an online presentation service based on the company's widespread Flash format and Microsoft's PowerPoint presentation software. Macromedia has argued that by relying on technology that most workers already have on their desktop, Breeze will allow organizations to more quickly and efficiently move meetings online.

Macromedia announced Monday that it will offer Breeze service free during the month of March. New customers who sign up for accounts during the month will be able to conduct free meetings with up to five simultaneous users. "We want as many people as possible to see how easy and powerful Web conferencing can be, so we're opening up this offer for the entire month," Tom Hale, Macromedia's general manager for Breeze, said in a statement.

Elsewhere in the Web-conferencing market, Raindance Communications released client software on Monday for its new integrated conferencing service. Raindance Meeting Edition combines typical online-presentation services with integrated audio and video conferencing and collaboration features such as document and application sharing.

Raindance has been an early backer of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) as a means of delivering teleconferencing services. The new meeting service integrates VoIP as part of a broad package to address business communications. "As we integrate VoIP technology into our next-generation services, we believe Raindance will be the only single-source provider of a truly integrated IP conferencing platform, owning and operating virtually every aspect of the technology and infrastructure behind our services," Raindance CEO Don Detampel said in a statement.