MasterNewMedia
Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi
 


Thursday, December 7, 2006

Online Collaboration And SOHO Web Conferencing: Acrobat Connect Is The New Reference

Yesterday, Adobe officially announced the release of the new Adobe Acrobat 8 which carries now within itself the fertile seed of easy-to-use real-time online collaboration for just about everyone.

The new Acrobat Connect not only facilitates instantaneous document exchange and review but makes web conferencing and collaboration instantaneously accessible from the hundreds of millions of existing Acrobat users out there.

Welcome_to_Acrobat_Connect_400.jpg

Yes, the breakthrough news for the new Adobe Acrobat 8, which is a major new upgrade from the preceding version, is not so much the cool and highly usable new interface or advanced new commands but rather the premier integration of the core Macromedia Breeze technology, now labeled Connect, into every single instance of Acrobat Reader and Professional versions.

To me this, is really "the announcement of the year" for the web conferencing and online collaboration industries. Nothing that has happened in 2006 has had or will have the impact that the introduction of Acrobat Connect (Macromedia Breeze under disguise) technology will have on the use, adoption and popularization of such collaboration and conferencing tools.

Here the key reasons for this:

a) The moment is particularly ripe for introducing new, highly usable, real-time communication and collaboration tools. Due to increased bandwidth available to many, more powerful hardware and to the greater disposition toward working at a distance, many individuals and organizations are now particularly receptive to the adoption of real-time collaboration tools that can speed up their work and save them both money and time to expensive, distant meetings.

b) Macromedia Breeze, the technology at the heart of the new Adobe Connect, is one of the very few collaboration / conferencing systems that has taken interface design and usability to a completely new level, from where first NetMeeting and then WebEx, Live Meeting and many others have left it.

c) Adobe has understood first, that to get the enterprise market you need first to be able to sell well and strong to the SOHO and consumer / professional markets. If you can't sell to those your enterprise sales are going to suffer. Why? The SOHO and professional markets a) provide tremendous drive as word of mouth and informal promotion, b) give back tons of useful feedback to the product development groups, providing the ability to improve and refine the product much better and faster than the competition, c) are the very same individuals that will act as marketing manager for those tools inside the organizations they work in. Adobe, is the first large provider of web conferencing / online collaboration tools that has understood and deployed a marketing / sales strategy that understands that to sell to the large enterprise, you need to give a tool that first convinces, empowers and pre-sells your technology offering to small guy too.

d) Adobe Connect enters everyone's home and office without the need for a fanfare. By leveraging the popularity of the Adobe Acrobat product family, available in hundreds of millions installed copies around the world, Adobe is able to introduce and make immediately available its flagship collaboration and conferencing technology by simply adding a new button to the Acrobat Reader toolbar and File menu. Not only. The other important aspect is that Connect is being introduced within a tool that in many scenarios is already a diving platform into collaborative tasks and activities.

e) Adobe Connect marketing and sales strategy creates a perfect continuum. From individuals, to professionals, SOHO, to medium-sized and finally to large companies the Adobe-Macromedia re-interpretation of how to market to the big while not forgetting the small opens up a myriad of opportunities for establishing itself a s the true reference online collaboration and conferencing platform to look up and reference oneself to. Connect is as much accessible to the individual for $39/month as to the organization that needs to manage hundreds of workspaces and more complex needs and will need to spend some thousands dollars for its license.

Maybe I am superficial, or maybe Redmond has not let me peek deep enough into their strategy, but Microsoft strategy does not appear to be as clear, well-defined and integrated as Adobe's, leaving the world of Live Meeting and SOHO or small group conferencing / collaboration quite a bit distant. At least for now.

This is why the Adobe Acrobat Connect announcement and release is such a breakthrough story for the online collaboration, SOHO web conferencing and live presentation tools marketplaces.

Start_Meeting_with_Acrobat_Connect.jpg

Nonetheless Adobe Connect integrates components that have already been available for the last 2-3 years, it significantly challenges competition by leveraging in perfect synergy two very popular and widely distributed technologies: Flash and Acrobat.

What stands clear in my mind is that Acrobat Connect publicly raises the usability bar for what professional-looking online collaboration and SOHO web conferencing tools need to achieve, independently of their designated target audience.

Key traits of the new Adobe offering based on the original Macromedia Breeze technology include "always-on" personal meeting rooms, the leveraging of the ubiquitous Flash Player software available on over 97 percent of all Internet-enabled desktops, availability at one-click distance inside Adobe Acrobat 8 and on the Adobe Reader 8 toolbar, screen-sharing, 2-party video, text-chat, integrated tele-conferencing, live annotation and easy invitation management.

The more advanced features like integrated VoIP, videoconferencing, layout customization, full PowerPoint presentation support and many others are all available in the Connect Professional version to be released by the end of this month.



Adobe Acrobat Connect

Connect_interface_sharing_desktop.jpg



Key Features

Connect_Meeting_menu_choices.gif



Key advantages:



Best user interface around

Two among the last commented and noted upon features of Acrobat Connect, make its interface an order of magnitude better than any competitor's one.

a) The interface components can be positioned and resized in any way the presenter / host wishes, making customization of the presentation workspace a key advantage, very few other competitors offer.

b) When the presenter changes, resizes or moves any interface component, all participants are affected by the change. They actually see when the interface is being changed and their components do change and move on their screens as the presenter moves them around. The presenter is therefore always sure that what she sees is also what is being presented to all other attendees. This feature by itself has at present no competitors. While other conferencing and collaboration tools allow the host to customize or select the components that will "compose" the interface, none allows real-time global changes to the interface that participants see in real-time.

Under these circumstances, the ability to save a number of readily accessible custom layouts becomes an obvious necessity, but one that Adobe has, at least for now, discounted these as non-essential, and therefore reserved them only for to the higher paying customers of the Acrobat Connect Professional version due for the end of the year. While this may appear as an excellent marketing strategy it may also be viewed as a lost opportunity to further distance and separate Connect greater value from the competition.

Also, note that Acrobat Connect, forgets everything about the size and placement of your presentation components (text chat window, video window, etc.) once you get disconnected or start a new session. Too bad. A "remember my last layout", or the full functionality available in the Pro version, allowing to save multiple different layout configurations would be a very valuable addition providing a significant further competitive advantage over equivalent technologies.



Persistent URL that always stays the same
Everyone gets a dedicated URL like https://connect.acrobat.com/robingood/ so that you have an easy-to-remember collaboration space that is always available to you and your contacts. You can actually print it on your business cards. Obviously access can be password protected and therefore you always decide who can get in.



Streaming video support from webcam

Connect_video.jpg

Flash-based video conferencing with up to two simultaneous parties is available at all times and given a good enough Internet connection image quality and sound have nothing to envy to competing Flash-based solutions.



Easy to use screen sharing

Acrobat_Connect_share_my_screen_button.jpg

Acrobat Connect integrates full and easy-to-use screen-sharing that supports all platforms. Finally also my Mac colleagues can join in and can both look at my screen and also show theirs. All the basic screen-sharing features are there and the implementation is well-executed, designed and reliable.



Text chat
A standard text chat facility integrating private chat ability and auto-URL recognition is fully in place and works as expected right out of the box.



Whiteboarding and annotations over screen sharing
Whiteboarding and live annotation tools are also integrated in the basic Acrobat Connect service and provide the ability to annotate, markup and highlight any content being screen-shared. Unfortunately and nonetheless the cool design of the annotation toolbars these tools remain yet quite ineffective due to limited know-how and understanding of their use from those designing them in the first place. Here there is a major area of improvement available though most users, already brainwashed by the shallowness and inconsistency of the existing whiteboarding sets around will be more than happy with what Connect has to offer.



Fully hosted
Acrobat Connect is a fully hosted solution that requires the installation of no software on your computer or on the one of the people participating in your meetings.



Integrated phone-based conference calling

Connect_telephone_conferencing_full.jpg

For now, that is during this initial trial period, open officially only to North American customers, the tele-conferencing numbers provided are standard US-based numbers which would appear to bear therefore a cost for calling them. This would be particularly true if you are, like me, sitting outside of North America. Since Adobe's preferred partner at this time is a company which has many global tele-conferencing access points, it should not be impossible for Adobe to make this tele-conferencing truly worth of its name.

One little extra fact I discovered on this front is that Adobe claims to be available to provide Acrobat Connect users with an 800 number within the account, though "...usage of this number by meeting participants will result in a billable charge." How one would be able to activate this it is not explained. You can find reference to this info inside the official Adobe Acrobat Connect public FAQ.

On the positive side, from the same FAQ I also learned that once your trial Acrobat Connect account expires, your Connect telephone conferencing number will remain the same for as long as you own your meeting room.



Integration

Connect_button_inside_Adobe_Reader_8.gif

Acrobat Connect is not only fully integrated inside the Adobe Acrobat family of products but is automatically integrated on most Microsoft Office applications when Acrobat 8 is installed.

Further, Adobe has partnered with Jabber, Inc. to support the integration of Acrobat Connect Professional and the Jabber Extensible Communications Platform (Jabber XCP), enabling users to seamlessly launch Acrobat Connect Professional meetings directly from Jabber XCP instant messaging sessions.



Security
All transaction- and account management-related interactions use Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption. For a future release, Adobe is considering to add an option for SSL-enabled video/data streams as well for subscribers.



Permissions management
Meeting hosts can control attendee permissions either before the meeting or from within the meeting room. Rights can be assigned either by using predefined roles or by using the participant's rights feature.



Presenter control can be passed to participants
Any attendee can be elected to become a Presenter providing one of the most in-demand capabilities for real-time collaboration.



Full Screen display
Attendees can watch your presentation, tutorial or demo in the beauty of a full-screen display without any interface distraction taking away precious screen real estate.



Price
At $39/month for up to 15 users this is a very, very competitive price. Thumbs up all the way to Adobe for this smart choice. Flat-rate monthly or annual pricing for both web and teleconferencing.

Here a few, among many other, nice little features that provide useful extra functionality and an increasingly rewarding user-experience to the new Connect users:

Network monitoring status

Connect_network_monitor.jpg

This is a useful feature allowing the host / presenter to see in real-time the amount of bandwidth being used in upload and download streams during a live session. (A close competitor, GoToMeeting, hides the same functionality in a difficult to reach dialog box, in which it doesn't even provide the specific data that it is able to collect from the network.)



Participant status

Connect_attendee_information.jpg

By hovering the mouse pointer on any attendee's name in the Participants List it is possible to see the "status" of that participant (attendee, presenter) and the type of connection speed used to connect to the meeting. This is evidently extremely useful as the presenter / organizer can tell easily whether the type of attendees have enough speedy connections to handle VoIP and maybe video, anticipating and adjusting to the characteristics and specific needs of those attending.



Real-Time Captioning
This is very cool. I am not too sure whether it will be available in some form also to standard Connect users but it is in any case interesting to report about it.

By utilizing the free Acrobat Connect Captioning Extension, meeting hosts can quickly and easily connect to a captioning service provided by Caption Colorado, one of the key initial Adobe Connect partners. Caption Colorado and WGBH's Media Access Group have partnered with Adobe to provide "real-time" closed captioning in Acrobat Connect Professional that utilizes the talents of highly skilled captioners who use stenographic court reporting machines to transcribe audio on-the-fly, as the words are spoken by meeting hosts.

This service provides hearing impaired and non-native English speakers with a real-time transcript from within the meeting interface.

Also notable: Captioning for any Acrobat Connect Professional meeting is provided free of charge to any U.S. Federal agency or employee through the Federal Relay program. Federal employees and agencies may book their events at www.fedrcc.us. Clients outside of the federal government can get more information at www.captionedtext.com and may request captioning services by emailing sales[at]captioncolorado.com or calling +1-800-775-7838.



Keep in mind that some of the best original Breeze features are not available in the basic Acrobat Connect version. Key missing ones include:

  • Integrated VoIP
  • Multi-party-video conferencing
  • PowerPoint presentation support
  • Recording



Differences between Acrobat Connect and Acrobat Connect Professional

Acrobat Connect Professional will be available at the end of this year. This enterprise-strength version of Acrobat Connect provides scalable web conferencing with extensive user and meeting management capabilities, as well as a powerful reporting system.

Business professionals can add real-world functionality to online meetings using presentations and collaboration tools such as screen sharing, multi-person video, interactive multimedia applications, integrated telephony, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and whiteboarding.

With Acrobat Connect Professional, organizations have the option of letting Adobe host their web conferencing solution and minimizing the impact on their IT resources, or installing the software on their own servers, behind their own firewall for additional control and security.

Acrobat Connect is a hosted service which enables online meetings with up to 15 participants, for a flat monthly fee of $39.

Acrobat Connect Professional, formerly known as Macromedia Breeze Meeting, is available both as a hosted service or as a server license, and enables online meetings for up to 2,500 participants.

Pricing is not publicly available.

Acrobat Connect Professional feature list.

More information about Adobe Acrobat Professional.



System requirements:

Windows
Windows XP Home/Pro Service Pack 2
* Internet Explorer 6.0, 7.0
* Netscape Navigator 8.1
* Mozilla Firefox 1.5.04

Macintosh
Macintosh OS X 10.4
* Safari 2.0
* Mozilla Firefox 1.5.03

Additional Requirements Participants
* Adobe Flash Player 8, 9.0
* Broadband connection



More information about Acrobat Connect system requirements.

Acrobat_Connect_banner_o.jpg

Try-out - free trial for up to 15 concurrent users - (only for North-American customers) (booooooh)

Installation of Acrobat 8 - Simulation Tutorial
This simulation, at http://my.adobe.acrobat.com/pressoverview/, will walk you through the set-up process outlined above.

Acrobat Connect video overiew.

Acrobat Connect Demo - video presentation.

Getting Started video.



Acrobat Connect FAQ

Download full Adobe Acrobat Connect FAQ / Frequently Asked Questions

Acrobat Connect Support Center

Connect_Support_Center_400.gif

 
 
 
Readers' Comments    
2006-12-07 23:36:26

Heike

Wow, what news. This is great!
Long awaited with anticipation.
I am thrilled.

Heike



 
posted by Robin Good on Thursday, December 7 2006, updated on Friday, February 26 2010


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