September 24, 2012, 11:59 AM — It's become a maxim of modern business life: Your most important meeting of the year won't take place in a conference room, but rather online with all attendees viewing a common computer screen.
It's impersonal. It's detached. And it's often quite vexing. Simply joining the Web meeting can sometimes be a problem. But if you haven't checked out these online services lately, you might be surprised by how much they've improved, or their wide range of pricing and features. Whether you're looking for simple screen-sharing to produce a PowerPoint deck, or whiteboard and collaboration tools for deeper interaction, chances are there's a Web app to fit your needs and your budget.
While some of theseWebEx, for examplehave been around for several years, cloud providers are constantly updating. We test-drove four small-business-focused services that can help with various types of meetings, and were generally impressed by their current levels of finesse.
Sometimes you just need a quick meeting to catch up with the team. If you don't need a lot of bells and whistles, MeetingBurner's free version (Mac or PC) for up to 15 participants includes screen sharing and a phone-in line.
Based on Flash and Java, MeetingBurner takes only a few minutes to set up, after which you as organizer get a dashboard from which you can adjust settings (there aren't too many), schedule a meeting, or simply launch one right away. The service gives you a custom URL (yourname.meetingburner.com) and phone number to share with participants.
You start by running a Java applet that creates a little control window where you can specify whether to share the entire screen, an application, or a custom region. It's too bad that participants see a gray rectangle in the area covered by the control window, but you can at least move the window around so that it doesn't conceal important information.
If you share your entire screen, participants can see a navigation bar with information about you based on your settings, the name of your meeting, the dial-in number, and a chat window (if you've authorized one). You also get a list of participants, and MeetingBurner lets you make any one of them the presenterthough that person must download and run the screen-sharing applet.
Drawbacks? MeetingBurner's interface is cluttered and not always intuitive.
More importantly, the free version does not let you record the proceedings. To record a meeting and share that recording, you must subscribe to either the $40-per-month MeetingBurner Pro (for up to 50 participants) or the $1000-per-month Premier edition, which supports up to 1000 users and adds analytics to the mix.