Blogger: Mike Gotta, Principal Analyst
It has been some time since Live Meeting has been significantly upgraded. Although Microsoft has long-held the Number 2 spot in the web conferencing market, it has been unable to gain any significant ground on WebEx (recently acquired by Cisco). The web conferencing market is an interesting industry segment. I have covered the space since the late nineties. By most estimates, WebEx has approximately 65% of the market and Microsoft approximately 25% plus or minus a few points. The rest of the market is spread across a large number of vendors. There are at least 75 or more vendors in this market providing a variety of hosted and/or on-premises solutions. There is incredible downward pricing pressure on the market. Given the number of vendors and downward pricing trends, open source has so far not been a factor in this particular market. Within large enterprises, most of my calls over the years have focused on pricing models, integration capabilities and service levels - not feature issues.
In this release, I believe Microsoft is making a purposeful attempt to differentiate itself from the churn of the pure-play web conferencing market. Rather than compete in a debate on pricing, Microsoft is changing the nature of the conversation by linking Live Meeting to its broader unified communications strategy. While there are clearly some advancements that will be appreciated by organizations and users looking for a hosted web conferencing solution, many of the specific improvements are going to be of interest to organizations in a broader context.
- The interface upgrade is very much needed to modernize the user experience (especially given solutions with impressive interfaces such as Adobe's Connect).
- The rich media advancements will be mostly relevant to those interested in virtual classrooms, product demonstrations, etc where visual capabilities can make a difference. I still do not have a significant number of data points from clients over the years that leads me to believe that video is a make-or-break reason to pick one platform over another.
- The VoIP support will be valuable to organizations trying to save costs associated with traditional audio conferencing providers and will be especially appreciated when it comes to global web conferences.
The significant message Microsoft is sending to the market (and its clients) however is that Live Meeting is part of its broader unified communications strategy and that the synergies with the 2007 wave of Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Communicator, Office Communications Server and RoundTable should change the way organizations assess their solution providers. Specifically, that market convergence will consolidate product categories (e.g., instant messaging, mobile, web conferencing, IP telephony) and that decisions need to prioritize a platform-centric approach to reduce the many number of stove pipes that now exist. This does not mean a single platform, but a goal of fewer moving parts in terms of infrastructure and SaaS providers.
It should be noted that there was no mention of how this threesome (Office Live Meeting, Office Communications Server and RoundTable) aligns with the SharedView ("Tahiti") service. So clients are likely still unclear as to how all the pieces come together over time.
Microsoft is strongly emphasizing the relationship between Live Meeting and OCS (shared codebase) and the linkage to RoundTable (which provides a conferencing solution for room systems). Now, that message begs the question as to differences between Live Meeting and OCS - while Microsoft talks about the commonality - there are capabilities that are not equal. IT organizations are should be very thorough in their assessment of these releases so that they can properly position each platform to their business users.
For instance, the on-premise version scales to around 250-300 users (much less than the hosted service). The compliance capabilities available within OCS are not the same as Live Meeting. You also still need to manage the Live Meeting system separately (through its Intranet Portal) from the OCS system which has its own administrative back-end. There is no server-side record/playback in OCS as there is in Live Meeting. There are also subtle differences in how the PSOM (Persistent Shared Object Model) protocol is handled over Live Meeting (often tunneled through HTTP) and how OCS handles that protocol internally. The list goes on. A common user interface is a good thing - but due diligence is required to understand the nuances of how Live Meeting and OCS handle audio/video and web conferencing overall.
- This is a very good release for Microsoft. The solution will solidify the integrated story across all of Microsoft's UC products and services.
- But - since Microsoft has raised the issue of commonality between Live Meeting and OCS, it will need to explain and rationalize the differences between the two platforms. IT groups must be very thorough in their assessment of each release.
- I do not believe that this release, in-and-of-itself, will cause any significant gain in market share vs. WebEx. People that have selected WebEx are not likely to make a decision that will defacto lead to an OCS deployment. Given Cisco's acquisition - WebEx clients will be looking for Cisco to clarify the role WebEx will have within Cisco's overall UC framework and how it will align, integrate or interoperate with MeetingPlace. Cisco will need to respond soon with its roadmap for WebEx.
- This will put pressure on vendors such as Adobe, Citrix, Interwise and other players - forcing them to either compete in the low-cost aspects of the web conferencing market, look to specialize around certain business activities (such as Adobe and its link between Acrobat and Connect) or pursue more vertical solutions (around e-learning). Smaller vendors will increasingly find themselves locked out of strategic UC conversation with business and IT decision-makers given the growing preference towards broader UC platforms.
Microsoft Press Release
Microsoft Debuts Major Release of Web Conferencing Service
2007 release of Microsoft Office Live Meeting supports 360-degree video, VoIP and rich media integration.
ORLANDO, Fla. — June 5, 2007 — Today at Microsoft Corp.’s annual Tech•Ed conference, the company unveiled the 2007 release of Microsoft® Office Live Meeting, a new version designed to dramatically improve online meetings, events and training.
Scheduled for availability in fall 2007, the new version of Office Live Meeting will make it easier for organizations of all sizes to experience the benefits of Web conferencing, whether people are conducting simple ad-hoc collaboration sessions, formal Web-based meetings, advanced online training or large communication events.
The 2007 release of Microsoft Office Live Meeting helps organizations better connect internally with employees and externally with customers and partners through these features:
• A redesigned and simplified user interface that helps conferencing participants remain focused on core content
• Improved training and event features that give presenters the ability to offer handouts, public class and event listings, and advanced testing and grading
• High-fidelity shared and local recording capabilities that give organizations the power to archive a Live Meeting session for playback
The 2007 release also supports multiple communication channels to provide an engaging experience:
• Two-way phone or VoIP offers participants a choice for integrating conference audio
• Embedded flash, video and audio files help presenters deliver rich content to conferencing participants
• Live webcam video and 360-degree panoramic video with the Microsoft RoundTable™ system offers a virtual experience, bringing the active speaker to participants