Robin: Thanks for the detailed review. Your page offers much more information than the GoToMeeting page.
Screen Sharing And Remote Control Keep Getting Better With GoToMeeting v3 - Review
"Screen sharing is generally understood as the technologically-empowered ability to transmit the contents of your computer screen to one or more remotely connected Internet users. In other words screen-sharing allows you to show PowerPoint presentations, Word documents, images and any other software running on your computer while remotely connected users see in real-time what you see on your screen."
And while you may have not yet noticed, screen sharing has become a sub-niche sector within the web conferencing, online collaboration and web presentation markets.
There are now more than ten free or low-cost screen-sharing products available online and their number is going to increase rapidly. From VNC-based solutions, to the latest free 2.0 tools, screen-sharing is seen increasingly as the easiest and most direct way to collaborate, work and provide training and technical assistance in a real-time virtual environment.
And it is within this fast changing scenario that Citrix has been rapidly developing and aggressively marketing a unique set of tools (GoToMyPC, GoToAssist, GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar) centered around these core, screen-sharing functions.
Without much fanfare the Santa Barbara company has recently rolled out the newest version of its web conferencing and presentation flagship tool, GoToMeeting, now in its third release.
GoToMeeting keeps improving and refining an already well designed tool, showing the competition that, serious investments in interface design and usability can truly provide a hard-to-close competitive edge over the numerous alternatives.
In other words, simplicity and ease of use remain GoToMeeting key strengths within a fully-featured screen-sharing toolset that has few weak points.
Citrix GoToMeeting key strengths are evident consequence of the excellent user interface design and of the numerous and highly effective live help/tips finely matched to a feature set that provides all of the basics you may expect from a real-time presentation/collaboration/conferencing technology:
- invitation system
- text chat
- screen sharing
- remote control
- change presenter
- live markup and annotation
- integrated teleconferencing
- security - encryption
- support for Skype
I have spent over one hundred and fifty hours with this new version of GoToMeeting (3), which I have used on a daily basis for training, software demonstrations and technical troubleshooting within my small distributed virtual team of editors and technical people.
One of the unique, characterizing traits of GoToMeeting has specifically been the ability to integrate all of these essential collaboration components in a simple, non-intrusive and highly effective vertical panel-shaped interface, which sits nicely on the rightmost part of your screen (in this new version you can now drag and reposition it anywhere on the screen you may want).
Outside Glance, Netviewer and a few others conferencing tools, Citrix remains one of the rare companies behind a screen-sharing tool having recognized early the need to develop an interface which can be easily utilized unobtrusively in conjunction with other full screen applications. This simple but uniquely important difference places GoToMeeting in a unique class of its own, as its contextual interface design strategy, greatly simplifies use, facilitates learning of its functionalities and makes rapid adoption a "natural" for the user.
GoToMeeting price is also affordable both for the individual professional, the small company and the large enterprise needing to enable large groups of employees for online collaboration as both Personal and Corporate well satisfy the needs of both groups.
But let me dive into what this newest GoToMeeting version has really to offer in more detail:
GoToMeeting screen sharing functionality is a breeze to use as it requires no technical know-how and it is made extremely easy by the use of an interface design that looks more like an appliance than a traditional menu-driven conferencing application.
The large translucent buttons that allow you to activate the sharing of your screen are a natural for anyone who has been exposed to a cassette deck or CD player command buttons. The Play button shows your screen to everyone else, the pause... pauses your broadcast, and the Stop button ends or concludes your "show". It couldn't be easier.
Note that while in the default mode GoToMeeting shares all of what appears your screen just as you see it, GoToMeeting is also perfectly capable to screen-share specific application programs or documents you have selected.
The quality of the display as viewed by GoToMeeting attendees is one of the best you can find on the market today, utilizing a full 24-bit color depth palette which works great both for photographs as well as for flat color graphics.
Last but not least GoToMeeting screen always shows end users all of what you are seeing, without cropping the view for attendees with smaller screen resolutions. The GoToMeeting automatically resize the presenter' screen contents while allowing the end user to adjust it to reflect her specific preferences.
Remote control and Change Presenter
The remote control functionality in GoToMeeting allows you to easily give control of your mouse and keyboard to anyone of your session attendees. Someone remotely can type and mouse over your screen from her remote computer, showing you how to perform a certain task, how to use a specific software or to co-edit a creative document. You could even use it to allow your remote technician to take control of your PC and troubleshoot the problems you are having from anywhere he or she is connected to the Internet.
It must be said that you will not be able to use GoToMeeting effectively unless you have at least a fast 56Kbps internet connection. ISDN, and low-grade ADSL lines are definitely OK, though obviously the faster the line the better. GoToMeeting bursts up above 256 Kbps and beyond without problems if you let it to. Obviously the type of screen-sharing session influences also the need for bandwidth, with troubleshooting and remote control needs having the highest requirements for high-speed connectivity.
GoToMeeting remote control abilities are greatly complemented by a truly effective and well-implemented "Change Presenter" facility which allows the host to pass screen-sharing rights to anyone of the attendees at any-time and in just one-mouse-click. Not only. Anyone in the meeting can, when authorized by the host, show her screen and (optionally) allow others (even multiple attendees at once) to remote control her computer.
Live Annotation and Mark-up
GoToMeeting live annotation and markup tools remain one of the peculiar strengths of this screen-sharing technology, as they not only add a valuable extra facility to those in need of presenting visually to others but it showcases, alone in its class, an approach to the use of traditional whiteboarding tools in that is an order of magnitude smarter and more effective.
What makes the G2M markup tools stand-out from the rest is their simplicity and ease of use. With what I have been considering an industry first since the advent of GoToMeeting, you need not anymore look like an elementary grade student when using a highlighting marker.
For example, G2M allows you to press Shift to keep your lines straight and offers by default a niche thick visible trait for its transparent marker. For however obvious these small innovations may appear to you, you will find it amazing to see how most of the industry conferencing tools fall miserably on these very simple things.
The live laser pointer tool G2M has been sporting since version 2 is also of great value. Just like a live laser pointer used by many presenters in recent years the G2M live pointer shows a real-time moving red circle directed by your mouse. As the pointer moves in real-time across yours and your attendees screens it is becomes a vital communication device helping highlight and point out specific elements displayed on the screen.
Recording is another one of GoToMeeting key strengths offering the user the ability to record in full any screen sharing session including the audio teleconferencing portion of it, when utilized.
GoToMeeting allows you to automatically save in its own proprietary format or to convert its recordings to the standard Windows Media Video file format.
Unfortunately I have not tested enough this functionality to provide insightful comparison of its output with alternative screen recording tools.
Inviting other people to a GoToMeeting session is as straightforward as this can be. You have a choice to either request an automatic email to be created for you, with all of the meeting information contained in it, ready to be addressed to your selected meeting attendees.
Alternatively G2M allows you to simply copy and paste the meeting information into your clipboard so that you can easily paste into your preferred instant messenger.
Meetings can also be easily scheduled for a later date/time through a simple and uncomplicated setup dialog box.
GoToMeeting offers a bare bones text chat facility which offers the very basic of live text chat without offering any of the more advanced and useful text chat-related functionalities most competitors utilize. The core functions include a "private chat" feature which is available at all times with anyone of the attendees, "text transcripts" that can be saved at any time from the G2M File menu (chat history logs can also be automatically saved by setting the proper option inside the G2M Preferences).
Security-wise GoToMeeting offers both password-protected access to any session (you don't have to but you certainly can) and 128-bit AES encrypted communications during any screen sharing session. Encryption in GoToMeeting is always switched on.
The interface of GoToMeeting IS the key to this tool success and wide adoption. Let me highlight for you again what makes it so special and effective:
a) Contextual interface allows peaceful coexistence with other full screen applications.
b) Tooltips and pop-up help messages guide and facilitate user understanding of what is relevant to do next.
c) The micro compact version of G2M command panel gives user full screen view of selected application/documents while maintaining full access to all key commands with one-mouse click.
d) Collapsible panels allow the end user to customize the interface to provide only what is actually needed while switching out of view unnecessary components
New in version 3 are also:
• Mac Attendee Support - users on Mac can fully participate into GoToMeeting sessions. Though they can't be hosts, they can do everything else.
• More Instant-Messaging Integration - more instant messaging clients have now been integrated into GoToMeeting allowing you to display a contextual G2M launch button on your Skype, Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, Microsoft Live Messenger or Office Communicator IMs.
• Microsoft Office Integration
GoToMeeting now provides direct integration into many of Microsoft key applications as including Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The integration allows a GoToMeeting toolbar to be showcased within the selected application, while leveraging Outlook for the sending of the invitation messages.
Information tips and visual alerts guiding the end user are very effective and non-intrusive. I view them as one of the very best (if not most innovative) characteristics of GoToMeeting overall design, as they are strategically essential in easing understanding and adoption by the non-technical type of user.
The overall interface remains also on a class of its own, taking up one of the smallest screen footprints among its competitors while integrating effectively access tp all of the basic functionalities required in a screen sharing session. All elements of the vertically shaped panel interface are modules that can be easily opened or closed at will. Further the full panel can be squeezed into a minuscule micro-toolbar which leaves out direct access only to the most essential functions.
Installation and configuration are very straightforward and require no particular knowledge or technical ability.
Security, encryption, recording, integrated free teleconferencing (for US-based customers) and a fair price make up for whatever else most
professionals were looking for when needing to collaborate, present or showcase documents and other materials to their online counterparts.
Areas for improvement
Visual notification of what is being shared
User awareness of the fact that the screen is being shared has still good margins of improvement. It is easy to end a GoToMeeting session and leave the show "on" for your former attendees. While on some windows GoToMeeting now clearly displays a dark blue border with a notice saying "On-Air -- GoToMeeting is showing this application", this does not happen when I share any window/application/document that is maximized on my screen (and which happens in the majority of cases).
Logging in to GoToMeeting is very easy indeed. but effectively being launched into the screen sharing experience takes a bit more time than I would like it too. Compared to Glance (default settings) GoToMeeting takes five or six times more time to make me ready for sharing my screen. Consider that I am on a fast Intel Pentium processor, with 2 GB of RAM and a T1 Internet connection; nonetheless when I click on the GoToMeeting Meet Now button it takes me on average between 12 and 25 seconds to be ready for screen sharing. Considering that another 8 to 10 seconds are taking by my PC to load GoToMeeting when I launch it from the Start menu, the overall time excluding the time to type in my username and password goes well over 30 seconds. That is too much. (Yes, G2M can be started up automatically when you boot your PC - but I don't like to have too many of these loaded at startup, so I keep it off - and yes, you can ask G2M to remember your username/password but for some reason my G2M seems unable to remeber those between reboots either.)
Unless the host selects in the drop down menu whether she wants to text chat with everyone attending or with a specific person, via the dedicated drop down menu available, the ability to send a text chat message is disabled. This is unnecessarily confusing for the end user, and it is often not easy for him/her to realize what she needs to do to activate the text chat functionality. It would be much wiser to pre-set by default the text chat facility and to allow the user to select private messaging to specific users only when she wants to. Just like all other text chat facilities across the industry have always done.
Auto-URL is yet to become a reality. Auto-URL is the ability to type URLs in the text chat area and having the system automatically translate them into clickable links that the other attendees can directly click on. This is a basic text chat feature available on other system since many years.
No alerts signal other users when you text message them. If one of your attendees is not looking at the G2M interface panel there is no visual or sound alerts her when she receives but doesn't notice an incoming text chat message.
No formatting of text chat, nor any date time stamp is associated with the text in the text chat window panel.
Usability of annotation and mark-up tools
Though the integrated annotation toolset it truly useful and well designed, access to it is not as comfortable and direct as it could be. Switching off and on annotation tools should be made easier as it is such an essential part of the presenter work.
Usability of vertical interface panel - position
The G2M vertical control panel, which can now be positioned anywhere you want on the screen, can also be inadvertently positioned outside of the side margin of the screen in ways in which it is literally impossible to bring it back into full view. This should be avoided.
Sign-up issues - credit card requirement
I have reported before my long stated reservations about Citrix marketing approach in respect to try-outs and the requirements for submitting a valid credit card number to obtain a limited try-out access to this service. GoToMeeting has kindly replied to my extended comments on this issue with the following:
"We have found that not only is it a better choice for us as an acquisition model because it's effective, we also use the credit card trial model because without it we risk having people sign up for multiple accounts whenever their old account expires.
In a sense we'd be providing our products for free for anyone that chose to take advantage of us because our trial version is identical to our purchased version of the software.
We do however understand that it is a sensitive issue and we continue to respect and appreciate your feedback on this."
Maybe we can all learn something from the above. Food for thought.
GoToMeeting is available both in a personal version as well in a "Corporate" plan, offering management of multiple hosts/organizers and allowing an attendance of up to 25 people per meeting.
Further, if your needs grow beyond the basics and you need to present to audiences of hundreds or more, GoToMeeting Corporate now integrates the newest Citrix product: GoToWebinar. G2W offers all that GoToMeeting has and some truly valuable extras, for audiences up to 1,000 participants.
GoToMeeting Corporate also features unlimited online meetings with up to 25 attendees and integrated reporting features to track usage.
GoToMeeting v.3 (personal edition) costs $49.00 per month or $468.00 if paid annually. The GoToMeeting Corporate plan with integrated GoToWebinar is not publicly available and you need to contact a sales representative of GoToMeeting to get a specific quote for your company (With GoToMeeting Corporate you must have an account with at least 10 host seats activated to include a GoToWebinar account). GoToMeeting personal is also available with the GoToWebinar integration at $99.00 monthly and $948 annually.
A GoToMeeting free 30-day trial is immediately accessible to anyone with a valid credit card.
GoToMeeting Corporate also offers a free 30-day trial that is immediately accessible online.
Disclosure: Citrix is an official sponsor and major paying advertiser on all of Robin Good's web sites.
Robin Good's Media Network editorial approach is to actively avoid writing reviews that would favour paying advertisers over non-advertisers. Although editors of RGMN are standard humans, they all strive to maintain a detached and objective reviewing policy even in the rare cases where there clearly exists a conflict of interest like this. Note also that no content in the above review has been censored, or pre-submitted to the company being reviewed for approval or commenting. The official RGMN policy says: "Review the product as you had to write to your best friend what you honestly thought of the product you have tested."