Cisco, Google make nice on videoconferencing

Orlando -- Owners of Google Chromebooks will be able to quickly join Cisco Webex conferences with an application demonstrated for the first time today at Enterprise Connect.

The app, which is still in development, will be available in the Google Play store, and once installed on a Chromebook, can set up calls to Webex more quickly than the current browser download that precedes joining a session.

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Until now connecting to a Webex conference via laptop required downloading an agent. Now that is all handled via the app in the browser. The Google HTML5 client for Webex is still a work in progress, according to Cisco, but should be available soon.

The app expands Cisco's collaboration with Google which already lets users join Cisco unified communications sessions directly from within Google Apps.

During the Cisco keynote address delivered by Rowan Trollope, the general manager of Collaboration, the company demonstrated for the first time two new videoconferencing devices for businesses.

The first is the SX-10, a device that attaches to a commodity video screen via an HDM-1 port and a power-over-Ethernet cable.  Trollope took one out of a box, plugged in an Ethernet cable with power over Ethernet, and a HDM-1 cable and the system set itself up. He controlled the machine via an app called Proximity installed on his iPhone.  He typed in a number and connected to someone also using an SX-10.

The phone talked to the SX-10 via high-frequency pitches generated by the phone's speaker. The idea is to avoid a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signal from being generated and that might interfere with other SX-10 devices in nearby rooms. Estimated street price is $1,500, he says.

The second is SpeakerTrack 60, dual video cameras that can detect people in the room and frame the picture to lop off empty chairs and vacant spaces. It automatically jumps to a close-up shot of the speaker and goes back to the broad shot when speakers on the other end of the call start talking.

It can also focus at different depths in the room. The demo showed a woman in the rear of the room at a whiteboard, and when she started talking the shot went to her and the whiteboard.

SpeakerTrack 60 is available on Cisco's MX-700 and MX-800 conferencing systems, and will be available later on lower-end products. It costs $15,900.

During his talk Trollope admitted that historically Cisco's videoconferencing and unified communications gear hasn't been especially user friendly. He said that when he took over the collaboration group a year and a half ago and first used the products he felt setting them up and using them had to be made simpler. He said he felt like they were designed "technology first with the user tacked on at the end." He said what's needed is an uncompromising user experience. "Well, we're working on that," he said.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

Read more about lans and routers in Network World's LANs & Routers section.

This story, "Cisco, Google make nice on videoconferencing" was originally published by Network World.

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