Microsoft Office Live Meeting

Microsoft has made a lot of improvements to Live Meeting, and the result is a smoother, less-glitchy meeting experience. It starts with meeting setup, which can be done a number of ways. Outlook integration is excellent and includes the ability to set up meetings off-line and have the appointment automatically placed in the recipient’s Outlook calendar. With additional plug-ins, you can also initiate application- and document-sharing sessions from within Office applications by using a Live Meeting drop-down menu.

When you move the mouse to the upper left-hand corner of the screen, a menu sidebar appears to the left of the application-sharing session that lets you see who’s attending, switch to a presentation or another application, pause sharing, and assign control to other attendees. You can also initiate meetings from Microsoft’s new Office Communicator, Windows Messenger, or MSN Messenger. Microsoft doesn’t provide its own audio-conferencing service but instead has partnered with MCI, Intercall, and BT to provide full audio integration. When we tried it with MCI, we could see the names of the other participants in the audio conference on-screen and those of mute callers, as necessary, from the Windows display. We no longer had to guess or remember which participant went with which telephone number, though we did have to click on a separate audio tab to get this information. As in previous versions, members can assign colors to themselves to tell the presenter to slow down or speed up or that they want to ask a question. Presenters and participants can chat with each other and ask questions if the presenter allows.

Meeting controls are no longer an all-or-nothing proposition. The meeting organizer can now assign another participant to be a presenter, either during the meeting setup process or during the meeting itself. You can also assign control to another participant during an application-sharing session. And while sharing applications, you can choose between sharing your whole desktop, a single application, or just a small piece of your display, by sizing a small Snapshot frame over the data you want to share.

The presenter can tell exactly what is being shared, as the rest of the display is grayed out. There’s also a zooming feature that lets the presenter expand a corner of the display. Another nice feature is the ability to lock the meeting to all subsequent participants. If they wish to attend, they’ll sit in a waiting room until the presenter grants them access.

Recording (available only in the Pro version) is now easier, as the administrator or organizer can set up a default telephone number for recording audio and use that number for subsequent recording sessions. Once recording is set up in meeting options, it’s easy to record a session by clicking on a Record button or via the Tools or Audio menu. With the Professional Editions, presenters and users have the alternate option of one-way Internet broadcasting using VoIP—no telephone required.

As with previous versions, the interface is excellent and the administration tools are strong. The program lacks video conferencing and the ability to integrate video and audio in PowerPoint presentations. Otherwise, Microsoft has done everything possible to put Live Meeting near the top of its class.


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