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Remote meeting app Fuze is decent but incomplete

CallWave releases its Flash-based WebEx competitor. It's simple to use, has a good design and some nice call-handling features, but there are some downsides.

There's a new WebEx competitor hitting the market: CallWave's Fuze. Its advantages: No download required on either the viewing or the presenting side. It works with video and allows markup of video frames. And it has some nice call-handling features.

I used the tool briefly and although I found some bugs and performance issues in this early version, I like the design and found it simple to use. You can upload documents to share (images, text files, PowerPoint presentations, even videos), and once you're sharing them, use simple drawing tools to mark them up and illustrate points. On the shared video player, you can sketch over the top of a paused video, and the sketches stay attached to the particular frame; you can see which frames have markups by little icons on the player's progress bar.

Fuze also runs on some smartphones, like the Blackberry Bold, and includes support for video. I haven't had a chance to check that out but it's an important feature--you'll be able to participate in a Web meeting while you're sitting an airport waiting area with your laptop put away. On other phones, like the iPhone, you can monitor the chat room but not see the shared screens.

I like the feature in the program to call people into a conference bridge, instead of the usual procedure, which is to e-mail them a phone number and access code. It will save a lot of time in online meetings if you can pull in your participants.

On the downside, you can't (yet) use Fuze for screen or application sharing, since that would require a software install on the sender's side. The company is working on that, although the people I talked to there want to push the "no download required" pitch as long as they can, which explains the delay.

Fuze is a Flash app, and reminds me a bit of Adobe's own Acrobat Connect, with which it competes (it's a very good product, too). There are several other products in the space, too, including Vyew, which was recently updated, and the open-source DimDim.

Fuze is priced at $29.95 a month (much less with yearly commitment). That's a bit high, and I expect competition (and the growing popularity of free products) will steadily push the prices down on remote presentation apps. I'm glad about that. I can't stand WebEx.

Image sharing and markup, no download required.

Bonus: What's CallWave doing in this market?
Prior to releasing this product, CallWave made and sold an "Internet answering machine," that did speech-to-text summaries of your voicemail. The company is backing away from that product. CallWave CEO Jeffrey Cavins told me that while there was good uptake from techies, the service was too hard to configure for general consumers. If cellular carriers had gotten onboard to offer it to their subscribers, the product would still be supported. But they didn't.