Web conferencing is slowly becoming the preferred method of distributed teams to do business. However, especially for small businesses and start-ups, the cost of web conferencing tools can be prohibitive, ultimately delaying the adoption of online meetings. This doesn’t need to happen, though, as there is a variety of free web conferencing software available -- and while it’s true that many are missing vital functionality or have only limited trial periods available, there are some tools that are as good as their subscription counterparts. To save you the legwork, I have listed these stellar free web conference tools for you below.
1. AnyMeeting - Previously known as Freebinar. This is a fantastic free web confrerencing software, with features that easily match those of its paid-for counterparts. As it is ad-based, you will have to put up with some minimum advertising in order to use this tool, but it is not intrusive for the hosts or attendees. It allows for meetings of up to 200 people, and has essential functionality like screen sharing, VoIP and phone conferencing, meeting recording and it even has a follow-up functionality. It’s web-based, so the only download needed is of a small plugin that enables screen sharing (on the host’s side). No downloads are necessary from the attendees, so even those behind a firewall should be able to attend meetings on AnyMeeting.
2. Vyew - This is a product that has both free and low-cost versions. The free version is a features-rich web conferencing software that goes beyond basic web conferencing. However, it is not as simple to use as other free web conferencing tools - it takes a few hours to become familiar with the controls and features you will use. One huge advantage is that it supports Windows, Mac and Linux and works without a hitch on all of those operating systems. It supports up to 10 participants in each web conference and best of all, it allows for free video conferences. But it does not record or play back any meetings. You can create meeting rooms which are saved and always left on - a great feature for online collaboration.
3. Mikogo - Another great free web conferencing software. Where its interface lacks in looks, it more than makes up for that in functionality. Allowing up to 10 meeting participants at a time, Mikogo has all of the essential features that make for a useful online meeting tool. Features include meeting recording, switching between presenters and the ability to pause screen sharing (great when you need to open a document in a private folder, for example). But perhaps its most useful feature is the ability to control the quality of the meeting - great for when you want to save bandwidth, for example.
4. TokBox Video Chat - If it’s a video conference software you’re after, look no further than TokBox’s Video Chat. Its greatest feature is that it allows for up to 20 participants at a time, and while it’s not specifically made for business (they do have a paid business offering), I found it to be reliable and easy to use. It also integrates with social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter, so you can let your business contacts know about your planned video conference easily, without the need for e-mail. Another great tool is the ability to share YouTube videos on the call, so all participants can see the same content at the same time, without the need for downloads. As it is not intended for business, it does lack the ability to record the meeting or take polls, for example. But for those more informal video conferences, the tool definitely delivers. Unfortunately, this tool will only be available until April 5th, 2011.
5. BuddyMeeting - This is an open source tool that lets up to 25 people to meet at a time. It supports voice, chat and video and has several useful functions like whiteboard, slide sharing (both Power Point and PDF) and screen sharing. It uses Flash, so there are no downloads necessary as long as you have the Flash player in your computer (it's a free plugin). A downside with this software is that it doesn’t support meeting recording and playback. However, this feature should be made available in the near future. It is a reliable tool with a very easy user interface, so great for those who are hosting their first online meeting.