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By Rob Tidrow
In an era of ever-tightening budgets, organizations have been forced to reduce business travel expenses. It's not surprising, then, that many companies have turned to conferencing technology as an online alternative to meetings that once required employees to log countless (and costly) miles. Microsoft NetMeeting, which debuted as a Windows 95 add-in, is one of the original conferencing tools designed to allow businesses to conduct meetings over local area networks or the Internet. Although many Windows XP shops have migrated to Windows Messenger (a hybrid that pulls functions from both NetMeeting and MSN Messenger), NetMeeting remains a mainstay of corporate online conferencing.
NetMeeting enables you to do the following:
- Chat with other NetMeeting users
- Conduct real-time meetings
- Use an electronic whiteboard to communicate visually
- Share applications
- Send and receive video and audio with others
What do you need?
NetMeeting requires computers running Windows 95, 98, Me, or NT. You should have at least 24 MB of RAM and a 90-MHz processor. However, it's recommended that your system's RAM and processor be around 126 MB RAM and more than 500 MHz if you want to maximize your online experience. Users also will need a 28.8 Kbps or faster modem for dial-up connectivity or DSL, T1, or cable connection for high-speed support. For audio and video features to work, the connection must be made with a 56 Kbps-modem or broadband solution. Of course, a video capture card or camera is required to send video, and a sound card, microphone, and speakers are required for the audio tools. You also need a valid e-mail address.
The first time you run NetMeeting, you must configure it for your computer, including contact and e-mail information, connection configuration, and directory server listing setup. Directory servers are servers maintained by companies for sharing information about other NetMeeting users. Directory servers can be private or public. The Microsoft Internet Directory is a Web-based directory that is used as a public list for other users.
Making a call
To make a call to start a NetMeeting session, choose Call | New Call or click the Place Call button in the NetMeeting main window. In the To field, fill in the e-mail address of the person you're contacting and choose a connection type—Automatic, Network, or Directory—from the Using field. If you're not sure which type you'll be using, choose Automatic.
Click the Call button. The person you're calling must be online and running NetMeeting. When the person answers your call, his or her name will appear at the bottom of the NetMeeting screen. You can now communicate with the person.
Chat with a person
The most common NetMeeting activity, and the one that requires the least bandwidth, is chat. If your users are familiar with IM, they'll already know how this works. To chat with someone, simply click the Chat button and type your message in the Message area. Press [Enter], click the Send Message button, or choose File | Send Message when you're ready to send your message to the other person.
Your recipient will receive the message immediately (slower dial-up connections may take a little longer) and can reply to you using the same method you employed.
NetMeeting lets you change font settings of your text messages by choosing View | Options and changing the Fonts settings.
Talk with each other
With NetMeeting's Audio feature, you can talk with other connected people using your computer's microphone and speakers. To do this, plug in your microphone and run the Audio Tuning Wizard. Choose Tools | Audio Tuning Wizard and walk through the wizard steps. When finished, start your conversation by speaking into the microphone. You're essentially conducting an "Internet telephone call" at this point.
The person on the other end can talk to you, but should wait until you finish speaking. You can think of it as a long-distance walkie-talkie conversation, since only one person can speak at a time. Although a little awkward at first, most users get used to it quickly because it's similar to older cell phone and speaker phone technologies.
See each other
We've all seen those futuristic movies in which videophones are commonplace. Although we're getting closer with video and picture devices in our cell phones, we're not there yet. With NetMeeting, however, you can send live video of yourself or others during your NetMeeting session.
You'll need to configure NetMeeting to send and receive video. Choose Tools | Options and click the Video tab. Select both of the Sending And Receiving video settings. Set the Send Image Size to Small for slow connections or to Medium or Large for fast (DSL or T1) connections. Set your Video Quality, too, taking into account your connection speed. The Faster Video setting will be grainer and less detailed than the Better Quality setting, but it will require a smaller file size, which accommodates slower connections.
Enter your capture device settings and choose OK. Position your camera so it captures what you want to send, such as yourself or another object. Click the Start Video button to begin sending the video image. The My Video window will display a Sending status label. The person receiving the video will see it in his or her My Video window. If you want to see the video you're sending, click the Picture-In-Picture button. To stop the video, click the Stop Video button.
Although simple chat messages allow you to communicate effectively with most people, there are times when a sending a file is necessary. Let's say you want the other person to review an Excel worksheet as the two of you chat about it. To send the file, simply click the Transfer Files button, click the Add Files button, select the file, and click the Send All button.
To view a file you've been sent, click Accept and specify where it should be stored. Then, click the Received Files button to open the Received Files folder. Double-click the file to open it and you can begin sharing details about the file either via chat or audio.
Use the Whiteboard
NetMeeting's Whiteboard feature allows you and others engaged in a NetMeeting to draw, type, and highlight items on an electronic "whiteboard." As you can see in Figure A, the NetMeeting Whiteboard looks like the Windows Paint program and has many of the same features. You can draw shapes, type text, color items, and copy and paste items to the Whiteboard.
Click the Whiteboard button to open the Whiteboard program. Use the tools on the left side of the window to make shapes, erase items, and so forth. NetMeeting automatically synchronizes the information on your Whiteboard with everyone else's Whiteboard. They can watch as you mark or edit an item while you're discussing it via audio. Imagine copying and pasting a diagram that you can then mark up as you communicate with others sitting hundreds or thousands of miles away.
With NetMeeting's program-sharing features, meeting participants can view and work with files together, such as simultaneously working on a Microsoft Word document. A program can be shared even if a participant doesn't have the program installed on his or her local computer.
To share a program, click the Share Program button, select a program from the Sharing - Programs window, and click Share. If you want others to be able to control the program, click Allow Control. When you share a program, you are in control of it. You must choose the Collaborate command from the Tools menu to allow others to use the program.
Troubleshoot common problems
One of the most likely problems you'll have with NetMeeting is making an initial connection, especially if you're connecting through a firewall. You can configure your proxy settings by choosing Tools | Options and clicking Advanced Calling in the General tab to open the dialog box shown in Figure B, where you can fill out the Gatekeeper settings. However, in some cases, a network administrator must make some changes on the outgoing server to enable you to communicate with NetMeeting. The Microsoft Knowledge Base article "How to Establish NetMeeting Connections Through a Firewall" will help you understand some of these issues.
When sharing a program, you may find that you need to shut off audio and video settings to get enough bandwidth for NetMeeting to refresh the shared program. Also, you may need to synchronize desktop resolution settings with all participants. If you're in control of a program and your video is set to 1024 x 768, viewers at lower settings (640 x 480 or 800 x 600) will not see the entire program window.
Although Windows XP and XP SP2 still include NetMeeting, they also provide the latest conferencing tool, Windows Messenger. As we'll see in an upcoming article, Windows Messenger offers a host of updates and security upgrades.