Adobe has announced the latest version of their web conferencing software, Connect Pro 7.5. New customers and trial accounts start using it immediately. Customers who license and install the software on premises can get the new version shipped to them as desired. And customers running on hosted (SaaS) accounts will be migrated to the new version over the following weeks as Adobe updates a server at a time.
I got a briefing and a demo ahead of time. There are a variety of enhancements along with the expected bug fixes that all software manufacturers add to upgrade releases. I’ll try to break down some of the more significant items.
The single biggest convenience enhancement for me is the addition of a software-enabled audio bridge. This allows you to connect to any third-party teleconference call and have the sound from that call piped through the streaming audio interface in the web conference so that participants can listen over their computer speakers. If they have problems with their computer sound, they can always call in on the telephone. Offering a choice of computer and telephone audio is one of my best practices for webinars, and this makes it a lot easier to accomplish. Before this release, you had to hard-wire your telephone to the microphone input of your PC to bridge the audio from an arbitrary teleconference.
Adobe’s implementation lets you preconfigure dial-out numbers and code sequences (including hard-coded pauses to account for voice prompts) with your account. You then associate a web meeting with the call configuration you want to use for that session. Adobe is talking about the possibility of expanding the functionality in the future. They foresee being able to someday bring not only voice, but other media such as video from a videoconference call into the web meeting. They may also look at incorporating two-way audio functionality at some point. Currently, web participants can hear anything said on the phone, but if somebody uses a computer microphone to speak in the web conference, phone listeners won’t hear them.
Connect Pro has been useful for meeting sizes of up to a few hundred attendees when using the hosted version and maybe around 1500 if using a carefully configured on-premises license. Adobe saw the the need to smoothly host very large meetings, such as major corporate announcements or investor calls and has added a new option for these kinds of massive audience events. “Connect Pro Webcast” is said to scale for audiences of up to 80,000. It offers a somewhat more limited set of functionality than the standard Connect Pro version. I’m still trying to get a feature-to-feature comparison list between the versions, but it should at least allow for participants to submit questions, download slides, and answer polls. The Webcast version is only available as a bundled purchase with a full event services package and is expected to be purchased on an event-by-event basis, since it is overkill for standard meetings. [UPDATE: Adobe responded with an email that the main limitation is no "share pod" for generalized collaborative information sharing. It uses a specialized slide display mechanism instead.]
One of the new features in release 7.5 fascinated me, as I had never thought about the need. Organizations can configure their accounts so that meeting hosts and presenters are only allowed to show certain approved applications when running a desktop sharing session. So a law firm might let employees share PowerPoint and Excel, but the software would automatically block the display of Outlook and Instant Messenger windows. No more embarrassing or confidential information accidentally showing up in your meeting when you fire up desktop sharing mode! Currently, you can only “white list” applications. In other words, the administrator has to explicitly allow applications to be shared. Anything not approved is automatically blocked. I can foresee customer requests for the opposite functionality, letting administrators “black list” applications that should never be shown, but allowing anything else the presenter might want to share.
Other announcements are less about specific in-conference features. Customers now have the option to purchase a “managed services” contract that lets them run a local on-premise copy of the software application, but have Adobe manage all installation, updates, and maintenance. And Adobe formally announced intent to support meeting participation from mobile devices, starting with (surprise) Apple iPhone and iPod Touch. There is no public availability forecast however. You can also upload a PDF document into a meeting room as a supported file type (like Flash or PowerPoint), giving you the ability to scale the content as the window size changes and work with the content more organically.
As soon as my hosted account gets upgraded, I’ll do some additional in-room testing to check on bug fixes and “idiosyncrasies” that have been well documented in the user forums. I was told that PowerPoint 2007 (.PPTX) support has been improved. But it looks like Adobe still can’t get licensing issues sorted out for Microsoft’s Calibri and Corbel fonts, leaving us frustrated with PowerPoint uploads and conversions when working with the latest Microsoft products.