Ah... the addictive allure of alliteration! Sorry.
Adobe made several announcements today (September 18) about upcoming releases in the Acrobat product family. The key thing that most reporters picked up on about the new release of Acrobat is that it is supposed to load faster. I guess I'm not the only person who gets a bit frustrated while waiting for all those product components to load when I just want to take a quick peek at a PDF document.
But I must confess to being pleasantly surprised at the amount of coverage Adobe got with their announcement of Adobe Acrobat Connect. Acrobat Connect seems to be the rebranded result of integrating Macromedia Breeze into the Adobe product suite. As you probably know, Adobe acquired Macromedia in 2005. Since that time, Breeze has been presented to the public as a relatively unchanged independent entity.
But with today's announcement, Breeze gets a name change and also gets split into two separate products. I'm still waiting for some in-depth explanations from my Breeze contacts at Adobe, so for now I'm going to speculate based on my reading of the Adobe website. With any luck we'll have a followup post and more detail later.
It looks like Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional (whew!) is the Breeze package as we know it today. In the words of the Adobe press release, the Professional version includes "support for large meetings, reporting, content management, extensive user and meeting management capabilities, support for interactive multimedia, integrated telephony, and Voice over Internet Protocol. In addition, developers can use the Acrobat Connect Collaboration Builder SDK to create custom interactive applications such as engaging learning games and simulations."
The website comparing the Connect versions shows that the Professional version allows up to 2500 attendees in a meeting, recording, admin features, and customizable layouts (the old Breeze "pods").
The new stripped down version is called Adobe Acrobat Connect. It lets a single named user conduct one meeting at a time with up to 15 people in the meeting room. This seems to be purely a quick 'n easy collaborative meeting environment. There is no support for recording a meeting, changing the layout, reporting, polling, and behind the scenes administration of events.
One of the more interesting commentaries on the announcement (at least as of day one) came from Phil Wainewright, blogging for ZDNet. He points out that the announced price of $39/month per meeting host is less than the corresponding collaborative web meeting products from Citrix or WebEx. My crystal ball says those companies should soon be dropping their flat rate pricing to match.
Phil thinks that because Acrobat is so ubiquitous on computers around the world (all operating systems) this meeting availability will open up web conferencing usage to a previously untapped population segment that never thought about trying online collaboration before. He then goes on to say that the lower price will force vendors to make this form of limited functionality collaborative meeting software a very inexpensive proposition. He ends with a comment that it "will challenge the business models and profitability of the existing vendors."
He may be right, but I think the small group collaboration market is already firmly headed in the direction of a low- to no-price commodity. As Microsoft, IBM, and WebEx (the biggest market share names in the space) keep talking about their visions of unified collaboration, small group web meetings are getting folded in as a basic component ingredient. I think in a few years nobody will buy the equivalent of an Acrobat Connect (non-professional) as a separate license. It will be bundled with presence detection, instant messaging, mobile text messaging, etc.
Adobe's big advantage is the existing reliance on Flash throughout the product set. I had already found Breeze to be one of the best webinar products for presenting to an audience on a variety of operating systems. The Breeze slideshow conversion algorithm is excellent at preserving animations and slide transitions that stymie other products.
The group collaboration space is going to get more confused before it gets clearer. The basics of what the functionality should be and the technical ability to deliver that functionality is now commonplace. Small providers are going to compete with their "good enough" products on a pure price basis and the public is going to quickly come to expect the basic functionality as a right, rather than an elective purchase (students are directed to the history of web browsers).
The big boys are going to roll up their offerings under the larger collaborative communications umbrella. The interesting question for me is how this impacts the more formal "webinar" market. I'm talking about larger events that are formally scheduled, allow enrollment and payment processing, support recording/reporting/user administration. That software will always remain an elective purchase, since the average consumer doesn't need the functionality.
In the best scenario, more companies and individuals become accustomed to attending meetings and receiving information online, which makes them more amenable to and aware of webinars as a corporate communications medium. Webinar software gets used more often and revenues go up throughout the industry (along with the need for service providers like Webinar Success!).
In the worst scenario, companies try to force the low-cost collaboration software to handle the workload for webinars because they see no reason to pay extra for something that seems like a similar application. It doesn't work out well because it wasn't designed for that and both hosts and attendees become discouraged and disdainful of the technology. Webinars fade as a communications medium.
I sure hope it's the former.
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