When looking at Convenos, think of entering your conference or board room and encountering the audio-visual devices within that room: a slide projector, a whiteboard, a video monitor and probably a display adapter with screen. In essence Convenos Meeting Center moves that board room to the Internet, even to the point where you can enter and leave the board room at will and re-enter to find all your shared content just as you left them previously. Convenos Meeting Center is a complete conference sharing collaborative environment suitable for both ad hoc and scheduled meetings as well as a virtual meeting room for “persistent”, project-dedicated business activities such as key account sales strategizing or product management support. Perhaps the best indicator of its effectiveness is that Convenos Meeting Center is being adopted by enterprises requiring up to three figure numbers of licenses.
Sharing Modes: The essence of Convenos is demonstrated in their tab bar’s titles:
- Slides: A full presentation slide manager (PowerPoint, PDF and MS Office files, etc.)
- Web: Cobrowsing (sharing links) of web pages
- Draw: A virtual whiteboard with the usual annotation capabilities
- Media: embedded Windows Media Player for full motion video sharing
- AppShare: an application sharing environment for either your full desktop or one individual desktop application window
In addition to displaying the five basic services, the Convenos Meeting Center session displays sidebars that facilitate and support management of the meeting:
The left sidebar includes single click access to shared content (such as presentations and documents formatted for sharing in the Slide tab, Bookmarks for display in the Web Tab or videos to show in the Media tab), listing of logged in users and a text chat service. The right hand sidebar includes Meeting Information (Name, Type, Host, etc.), Polls, Attendees (all who are authorized to attend the meeting and their status), a Notepad and a File Share window for files that you wish to allow all meeting participants to download.
- Convenos runs inside an Microsoft Internet Explorer browser ((IE 6 or later). However, although not supported by Convenos, I was also able to operate the Convenos Meeting Center environment in a Firefox browser tab when using the Firefox IE Tab extension. And, since it uses Internet Explorer and associated technologies, it requires Windows 2000/XP/Vista platforms. Update May 2008: April 2008 upgrade now includes Firefox 2.0 support.
- Meeting Types: Scheduled, Recurring (say, weekly), Ongoing (persistent) and Instant
- Packages: Standard (up to 20 participants, 25GB storage, $30/license/month); Professional (up to 99 participants, 100GB storage, $100/license/month)
- Voice services: Skype (up to 10 participants); HighSpeedConferencing (up to 99 participants) or a host-defined option
- Private and Open (Public) Meetings
- Capacity: 99 participants except when doing Application Sharing – 25 participants
- Access: via Skype Extras: Tools | Do More | Get Extras | Business or download from Convenos website.
Setup and Operation
There are three options for setting up a Convenos Meeting: Web-based, Outlook or as a Skype Extra. While the first two are more appropriate for Scheduled, Recurring and Ongoing meetings; the latter is more appropriate for, and limited to, Instant Meetings. All three options have a one-time free 14-day trial period after which subscription charges apply.
Outlook: This is probably the most general approach with easiest setup of scheduled, recurring and ongoing meetings since it links into your Outlook Contacts and Calendar. Install the Convenos Outlook plug-in, click on the Schedule Meeting or Instant Meeting button, fill in the meeting information, select participants from your Outlook Contacts and send the email invitations. Click on the link to enter the meeting; as the email is received it automatically gets added to Outlook Calendars of all the participants. Any meeting scheduled from the Outlook plug-in will default to using Skype for the voice service; this can be changed by going to My Convenos described below.
Web-based: Convenos is managed through a My Convenos host management session in IE. The three primary categories are Meetings (Enter/Create/Start Instant Meeting), Setup (My Profile, Preferences, Edit Instant Meeting, Purchase and Downloads) and Assistance (Help, Support). Creation of a meeting involves multiple steps including:
- Meeting information: Title, Description, Type, Schedule Information (for Scheduled and Recurring Meetings)
- Meeting Options: Open or Private, Hide Attendees Information, Server Location
- Audio Options: Skype only, Mixed VoIP, landline and mobile (HighSpeedConferencing) or host-defined audio
- Invite Attendees: via email address or from Convenos Contact list, set Attendees’ privileges: (Guest, Participant, Speaker, Recorder)
Skype integration via this option largely consists of automatically bringing Skype users into the voice conversation when they enter the meeting. During any registration session you are asked to enter your Skype Name (but not password) such that when Convenos detects you are entering a meeting it also brings you into the Skype conference call session.
One shortcoming here is the lack of integration with Skype Contacts where one could select a Skype Contact for an invitation and send the invitation via Skype IM (in a manner similar to how the Convenos Skype Extra works).
Actual operation involves the Host entering the meeting from his/her My Convenos while participants can enter from a link in the email (or if they are already a Convenos Contact, from their “My Convenos”). An initial ActiveX client download (~1.5 MB) is required; for Private meetings, non-registered contacts are required to fill in some contact information to register with Convenos. However, given this is an enterprise tool, these operations, once completed, are not repeated, yet they maintain an appropriate element of privacy and security for Convenos sessions. (For Open meetings a one-time participant ID and Skype Name, if appropriate, are all that are requested.)
The Instant Meeting set up via MyConvenos jumps to the Attendee screen from which you can invite contacts. Not quite as spontaneous as inviting contacts via the Convenos Outlook plug-in or directly out of a Skype user’s Contact List, such as with the Convenos Skype Extra, unless the invitee has previously registered with Convenos.
One key area for consideration is how a sharing environment displays across disparate screen sizes of the various participants. Convenos handles this by placing their session in an Internet Explorer window which can be resized in the normal Windows manner. Optionally the sidebars can be hidden to create an even larger display space.
Content for the Slide Tab is generated by a Convenos print driver that converts (“prints”) any file format to a jpg file which can then be viewed in the Slide Tab. As a result slide shows can comprise PowerPoint, PDF, Word, Excel, MS Project or any other printable document; however, they cannot be edited within the Slide tab.
Cobrowsing essentially consists of sharing URL’s to be viewing the same page and, while it will track mouse and keyboard activity, it does not allow any interactivity such as sharing entry of form data (such as Comments to Skype Journal). In practice this is a security feature to prevent unauthorized purchases and access to other personal/confidential activity. When watching a YouTube video each participant must actually start the video and the audio stream comes from each individual’s web browser. (The WEB tab essentially embeds an IE session into the Convenos session.) To share interactivity such as form entry, you must share an IE session under the Application Sharing tab.
A unique feature of the cobrowser, whiteboard (DRAW) and Media Player is the content in these tabs can be captured and transferred to the Slide Tab’s documents for viewing as a slide.
The Media Tab, which supports any video format supported by Windows Media Player including MPEG 4, has seen increased use with the evolution of user generated video content, especially for training and customer support videos.
The one weak area is desktop sharing on two counts:
- There are only options to share either the full Desktop or one individual application (window) but not multiple selected application windows.
- In several sessions we found the refresh/update rate to be sluggish. Fast enough to be usable; however, not “snappy”. Update May, 2008; this issue has been addressed.
One major strength of Convenos is the “persistence” of Ongoing Meetings: you can leave the meeting and come back several days later and find the “state” of the meeting has not changed (unless others with appropriate privileges have entered and made some changes). All your documents are there; you are back at the last slide viewed in the Slides tab, the last web page viewed in the cobrowser and the most recent markup of the whiteboard.
Convenos Skype Extra (Instant Meeting): The Convenos Skype Extra is installed via the Tools | Do More | Get Extras | Business path from the Skype for Windows client. Upon installing you are asked to enter your Convenos registration information (email, password) and a Skype Contact window will appear from which you can select names for an Instant Meeting session. Click on Start and meeting information, including a link URL, will go out via Skype Chat windows to each participant.
Subsequently, right click on a Skype Contact’s Name, select DoMore and Convenos Meeting Center. The Skype Contact Window mentioned above appears again with the Contact’s name as the first person to be included in a Convenos session. Click on Start and meeting information, including a link URL, will go out via Chat windows to the designated Contact(s). Basically, four clicks and you are launching a Convenos Instant Meeting session.
Positioning: Ideally suited as an enterprise team building and bonding tool, especially when team members are geographically disbursed. A complete suite of hosted tools for customer presentations, sales and support training, project management infrastructure, recurring team meetings and document sharing.
- A complete conference room environment suitable for enterprise team collaboration and external presentations
- Rapidly switch amongst the various sharing modes
- Persistence: ongoing meetings to support enterprise or special interest community projects
- Voice options: while Skype is there, can be expanded to allow other options for >10 participant sessions; infrastructure inherently provides backup in the case of a specific service’s outage or capacity limitations
- Display versatility: total scaling within the limitations of a participant’s screen size and resolution.
- Skype and Outlook integration
- Full motion video sharing
- Much more user friendly, intuitive user interface and less costly than Webex
- A feature compatible, Skype-enabled alternative to GoToMeeting
- On-the-fly polling to spontaneously develop consensus amongst participants
- Could use a designated coordinator but requires no assigned IT support
- Includes hosted storage of commonly shared and accessed content
- Limitations on application sharing (sluggish, options for sharing applications)
- Mildly cumbersome for setting up Instant Meetings from My Convenos manager.
- Flash or QuickTime support comes only via the “Web” mode using the relevant inherent IE plug-ins
May 2008 Update: April 2008 upgrade provides “lightning-fast” application sharing, Firefox 2.0 support and works with many Microsoft Vista installations.