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Free browser-based Web conferencing

ActiveTouch, a firm that develops and operates business meetings over the Web, will announce a service that will allow real-time visual and verbal interaction over the Net.

ActiveTouch, a firm that develops and operates business meetings over the Web, will today announce a service that will allow real-time visual and verbal interaction over the Net.

The company hopes to make WebEx a service as ubiquitous as electronic mail, and says it requires only an ordinary browser and telephone. ActiveTouch said it lets users spontaneously share documents, presentations, Web content, and applications, giving a sense of being face-to-face.

"WebEx represents a giant leap forward for the Web by offering the most powerful real-time interactivity services for free," ActiveTouch CEO Subrah Iyar said in a statement. "We want everyone with a browser to be able to use it--at work and at home."

Some analysts see this technology as providing the catalytic spark that will revolutionize data communications in a similar way to the way the telephone revolutionized communications.

"ActiveTouch's new WebEx Meeting Center provides what is perhaps the final key missing element to making the Internet a truly useful medium for real-time interaction and information exchange," said Stephen Hendrick, vice president of application development tools research at International Data Corporation (IDC).

The WebEx Meeting Center free service allows up to six people to participate in a browser-based Web conference. Teleconferencing can be added to any WebEx meeting through the same browser interface. The service allows people to share and annotate any type of documents; watch as someone runs an application; or to jointly surf the Web, among other capabilities.

The company, founded in 1996, also provides Web-based teleconferencing for a fee.