REVIEW: GoToMeeting

With the widespread availability of broadband, Wi-Fi and 3G, online meetings and Web conferencing have become commonplace, doing away with the need for costly travel, venue and equipment hire, and other expenses. Instead all participants have to do is logon to a meeting from the comfort of their own desk to, typically, listen to presentations and join in conversations as well as view the presenter’s desktop and applications and, generally, share information with others across the globe.

What is it and who is it for?

Originally developed by Citrix back in 2004, GoToMeeting has, over the years, become a leading online meeting service, used as much by small businesses as larger corporate customers. More than just meetings, it can be used for remote software troubleshooting, sales presentations, online training and much more.

It can be used both by Windows PC and Apple Mac users with the only pre-requisite a compatible Web browser. On a PC that means Internet Explorer 7, Firefox 3.0 or Google Chrome 5.0 while on the Mac it’s Safari or Firefox 3.0 and above. Java support is also required on all platforms, although that’s hardly an issue, plus a microphone and speakers or headset of some kind required to join in conversations.

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Pricing & setup

One of the key selling points of GoToMeeting is its flat-fee pricing structure, the base service costing £29/month or £276/year (ex. VAT)—effectively a 20% discount if you pay annually.

For this up-front fee you can host as many meetings as you like with up to 15 attendees at a time. Another plus is that participants don’t have to be licensed—just the host, which means you can use the product to give sales presentations and run online training courses without it ramping up the costs involved.

A multi-user Corporate edition of GoToMeeting is also available featuring tools to administer and manage multiple meetings centrally and increase capacity by up to 10 participants per meeting (i.e. 25 per meeting in total). Some limited branding is also possible, such as displaying a company logo in the online meeting waiting room, for example. Plus it’s possible to integrate online meetings with other applications via a fully documented API.

Unfortunately, pricing for the corporate edition isn’t published online, rather you have to call and speak to a sales rep who may offer discounts for volume users. That said, a flat-fee structure still applies, allowing an unlimited number of meetings to be hosted at no extra cost.

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Does it do it well?

It takes just a couple of minutes to setup a meeting, with options to schedule meetings via the GoToMeeting Web site or from Microsoft Outlook by mailing out meeting invitations. Lotus Notes integration is also available, plus it’s possible to alert attendees to meetings using instant messaging. Meeting calendars are available and the ability schedule recurring meetings another useful option.

Joining a meeting is similarly quick and easy with no need for any kind of account, just the unique ID generated when the meeting is first setup and an optional password. The necessary client software will then be downloaded and installed into the attendees’ browser and they’re in.

For security all communication between participants is SSL encrypted using the 128-bit AES algorithm and because the connection is established by the client rather than the other way round, problems with NAT or local firewall settings are rare.

Participants, typically, start out simply viewing the desktop of the presenter, but can switch to sharing their desktops with others as required, optionally sharing keyboard and mouse control for collaborative working and problem solving exercises.

Other nice features include integrated drawing tools, enabling users to highlight and point to items of interest, plus facilities to share specific applications with others in the meeting. Participants can also chat via on-screen messaging, or directly via a free hosted VoIP service or conventional dial-in telephone conferencing, again without any additional charges beyond those applied by the telecoms carrier. There’s even a recording and meeting playback options to save and distribute meeting content.

Performance is down to the bandwidth of the connections involved, with the best results on fixed line ADSL and cable broadband links.

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Where does it disappoint?

If it’s a mass-attendee webinar services you’re after then GoToMeeting is the wrong product, simply because of the strict limit on the number of clients that can be supported in any one meeting. That said, Citrix does have a companion product—GoToWebinar—for such needs, and this can be integrated in with the GoToMeeting product as part of a corporate license.

Videos played on a shared GoToMeeting desktop display reasonably well, but there’s no support for streaming video or specific video conferencing functionality which could be an issue with some customers. File transfer isn’t supported either.

The lack of smartphone support, like that available with Cisco WebEx, is another concern while Mac users will find that they don’t get quite as much functionality as their Windows colleagues with no meeting recording and playback option on Mac systems, for example.

Lastly, it’s not possible to simply pay for a one-off meeting using the Citrix service. Moreover, although a 30-day free trial of the GoToMeeting product is available, a valid credit card number has to be registered during signup which means running the risk of being billed if you forget to cancel the subscription before the 30 days are up.

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Would we recommend it?

We liked GoToMeeting. Its quick setup, flat-fee billing and support for PC and Mac platforms making it a good solution for small to medium-sized businesses looking to run online meetings with no long-term strings attached. However, it’s far from the only product on the market and faces stiff competition from other, better known, services such as Cisco WebEx. Lack of branding opportunities, like those available with WebEx, could also be an issue for larger companies—particularly those selling through their online presence and looking to differentiate their conferencing tools against those of competitors.

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