Microsoft Rolls Out Revamped Web Conferencing Service



Amit Mital, General Manager, Live Meeting.

REDMOND, Wash. Sept. 15, 2003 Communicating effectively with partners, customers and employees can make or break a business today. With this ever-growing need for corporate collaboration in mind, Microsoft has introduced the latest version of Live Meeting, which is designed to enable businesses to conduct real-time, interactive presentations and meetings over the Internet.

Formerly known as PlaceWare Conference Center, Microsoft Office Live Meeting 2003 is built on a scalable, browser-based architecture and will be the first fully hosted collaboration service for the Microsoft Office System. The Web conferencing service has been significantly enhanced with features to improve ease of use. And because it is based on the Microsoft Windows operating system, the new meeting application brings the familiar look and feel of Windows, as well as administration tools and new tools to help presenters and participants have a more engaging and productive Web conference. Live Meeting is a key piece of the Microsoft Office System, designed to help revolutionize enterprise communications by connecting information workers “live” with the people and information they need to be successful.

PressPass spoke with Amit Mital , Microsoft’s general manager of Live Meeting, to learn more about the growing popularity of Web conferencing and the value it can bring to global enterprises.

PressPass: What is Microsoft Office Live Meeting?

Mital
: Live Meeting is a service that allows people to hold meetings over the Internet. People who utilize this Web conferencing service might be located in the same office building or work in different parts of the world, but they can use Live Meeting to host presentations, hold sales calls, conduct training sessions, provide customer demonstrations, introduce new products and schedule team meetings. Live Meeting also allows customers to share their desktops or specific applications for improved collaboration. You name it. Live Meeting is designed to make online conferencing easy and affordable.

PressPass: What specifically does Live Meeting provide customers?

Mital: To begin with, Live Meeting offers customers a very simple, low-cost solution for Web-based collaboration. By using their browser, people can “virtually” attend a meeting on the Internet, so to speak, and actively participate. There is no need to install servers in order to share content and applications with other people. In addition to sparing enterprise IT that time and expense, Live Meeting can help companies save on travel costs and maximize employee productivity. As a result, Live Meeting offers more opportunities to reach out to partners, customers and other interested parties without playing phone tag or paying for airfare. It can make for faster and better-informed decisions.

PressPass: Can you talk about some of the features Microsoft has added to Live Meeting?

Mital: The current release comes after a great deal of feedback from our customers, our partners, and our sales force. Primarily, people told us they wanted a service that utilized a familiar user interface so it would be easier to use with little to no training. They also wanted a richer user interface with greater flexibility for more interaction between presenter and participants.

Live Meeting’s primary features include a new console, based on the familiar user interface of the Windows operating system, that enables users to conduct more efficient meetings. Participants can take advantage of established, familiar conventions such as rollover Help for buttons, right-clicking for context-sensitive commands and standard File, Edit and View menus, resulting in a highly intuitive interface that requires less training for presenters and attendees.

It also provides increased scalability and reliability of back-end service. The enhanced scalability features allow users to host meetings for up to 2,500 people, using our data center.

We have improved application sharing, which allows customers to share their Windows-based applications with other people in the meeting. Also improved are provisioning features, allowing customers to directly configure and administer the meetings and view reporting, error logs, etc.

PressPass: What level of security will Live Meeting provide?

Mital : Ensuring your privacy and security is very important to us here at Microsoft, and we’re very proud of Live Meeting’s security features. With patented technology that securely traverses the corporate firewall, Live Meeting is a secure, reliable Web conferencing solution. Only administrators and authorized users will have access to the data. In addition to the encryption that Live Meeting uses for all content in a meeting, customers can choose to have all real-time communication streams encrypted using SSL connections to the service.

PressPass: What exactly is going on in the Web conferencing industry that prompted Microsoft to continue to invest and improve in this area?

Mital: Web and online conferencing is growing at a tremendous rate and is considered just one component of a longer-term collaboration solution. The Web conferencing industry, according to Frost & Sullivans May 2003 report, is expected to exceed US$1.7 billion by 2007.

Increasingly, online and Web conferencing is helping large, midmarket and small companies save money and enhance productivity. Live Meeting enables everything from small, highly interactive and collaborative meetings to large, more structured seminars and events with up to 2,500 participants. More than 3,500 corporate clients, and more than 60 percent of the Fortune 500, currently use Live Meeting for their communications needs. We expect those numbers to grow as we continue our commitment to the industry.

PressPass: Why is Live Meeting branded under the Microsoft Office System?

Mital: We believe Live Meeting is a natural fit within the Microsoft Office System. The common thread is a focus on information worker productivity and connecting people with the people and information they need to be successful. Live Meeting adds a “live” communication and collaboration element to a familiar set of productivity products. We think Live Meeting provides a core service to information workers, and presenting this service to users in a common brand allows customers to use them together in a much richer way.

PressPass: How will Live Meeting fit with Live Communications Server, the other pillar of the Real-Time Collaboration Business Unit?

Mital: The Microsoft Office Live Communications Server is another product that we’re launching in our collaboration and communications space. Live Communications Server is an instant messaging (IM) server that enables people to communicate in real time across enterprises in a manageable and more secure way than is possible with consumer-oriented services. Live Communications Server is an extensible platform as well as an IM solution. It will allow developers to build real-time communications capabilities into their own applications.

Over the next couple of years, Live Communications Server and Live Meeting will complement each other with presence, instant messaging, and live conferencing and collaboration within a seamless, secure space for business communication.

PressPass: How do you think this latest version of Live Meeting distinguishes itself among its competitors?

Mital: The Windows-based console is significantly improved. We also believe our scalability — the ability to have large meetings of up to 2,500 people — is one of the features that really sets us apart from competitors. Our self-provisioning applications are also a huge plus. These additional tools allow presenters to more easily manage user interactivity and meeting content. Users also can move or hide individual control panes based on their own preferences. Presenters can enable or disable meeting controls based on the number of participants in a meeting and the level of interactivity desired. We think these features make Live Meeting quite unique. The Live Meeting service provides a concept of persistence, allowing customers to store their content, notes and annotations on our service as long as needed. If you choose, each time you return to your conference center, its just the way you left it.

PressPass: What’s next in terms of the overall product road map?

Mital: Our goal is to improve, enhance and simplify our customers’ experience. As we get feedback from users on what they like to see in terms of integration with other products, for making a much more seamless experience and better application sharing, we will be responding to their needs. In the short term, many of the features will be focused on tighter integration with other Microsoft products, as well as other key products in the communication and collaboration space.