Webex's core product MeetMeNow was quietly updated last night with some new features. New on the list is support for Webcams (both PC and Mac), which will automatically be detected and let the conference host know who's got video-conferencing capabilities. They've also condensed all video into one area of the interface, where the host can choose which cameras get broadcasted to others in the meeting. It's a quirky system, and not nearly as advanced as some of the collaborative services that offer up multiple user Webcams at the same time like Octopz (review), or even chat service ooVoo (review) to a degree, but it's fully capable of serving up video with audio to everyone in your meeting, which the company hopes will give them an edge over some of their competitors.
Surprisingly, video chat is not a mainstay for many of these SMB business conferencing services. While Adobe's Acrobat Connect service offers multi-user video conferencing as part of the package, Citrix's GoToMeeting, Yugma, and Vyew do not. The one thing that really sticks out with Webex's implementation of video is that as a host you can't preview someone's Webcam before switching them live for everyone to see. It's a business-friendly feature that could help avoid awkward nose-picking incidents, but is sorely missing. We also found that in order to share your cam with everyone else, and begin transmitting, the host first needs to pick you out from the drop-down menu of folks with Webcams (which incidentally is separate from the general user list) that queues up that oh-so-familiar Adobe Flash Webcam security message--a process that would be nice to be initiated by attendee and not the host.
With the update, Microsoft Office users are also getting new quick-launch buttons to start conferences from Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that show up in the add-ins section. While this is just a quick launcher, it doesn't tie down the conference to just that app, or even set it to automatically share the application.
After giving this a spin a few times, I'll echo what Rafe has said in numerous posts about Webex being less friendly to users than desired. Both of us run dual monitors in the office, and for some reason the service just can't handle it. Trying to move it over simply makes the conference manger disappear. Furthermore, separating the user chat and the video feeds (which it does) is splitting the focus of people in your meeting and forcing them to switch back and forth while trying to keep up with whatever you're sharing on the screen. While there's a "pop-out" option for the video module, why complicate the basics and clutter up people's screens with one more floating window?
What this product needs is a nice and simple UI overhaul. The core technologies are still there, and screen sharing works great and as advertised. Adding video is definitely a nice start, but as mentioned above, putting everything into one communication tab and tightening up the host controls a little more would really make things shine.
With the new features the service remains $49 a month, with annual subscribers paying $39 instead. To give it a spin, the service offers a 14-day trial that only requires your e-mail address. You can sign up for it here.