Meetings can be the bane of everyone's existence, especially when you are not physically present for the proceedings. But just because you can't physically attend the meeting doesn't mean you can't participate in the meeting.
If you search "online meeting" with your favorite search engine, you will find plenty of possible tools to help you set up and create an online meeting that remote users can attend. Some of these applications are actually quite good; however, many of those tools have a fee attached to them. But when you want to set up an impromptu meeting or only need an occasional online meeting, you may not want to pay for the service.
In my search for reliable and free online meetings tools, I found four that are actually very serviceable for just about any instance: for full-blown meetings, for instruction, or even for support. In this article, I am going to highlight each these free alternatives and, in the end, point to the one that stands out as a clear favorite.This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic Photo Gallery and TechRepublic download.
Mikago is screen-sharing application that allows you to easily invite users into your desktop where you can whiteboard, share, schedule, record, play back, transfer files, copy/paste, pause, and much more.
I found this particular tool to be great for meetings that focus on the PC, its use, or an application's use. The whiteboard feature of Mikago draws directly on the desktop, instead of using an application whiteboard for the task. You can also select which applications you want your attendees to be able to see or not see. This is one of the features unique to Mikago and allows a presenter to open up applications outside the scope of the presentation without the user seeing them.
Mikago does require the installation of an application that will reside in your system tray. This allows you to quickly and easily start and stop meetings right from your desktop.
Mikago is really best suited for training purposes.
Vyew is probably the most powerful of these tools. Users of Vyew will find it does a better job of supplying the standard tools and tasks for standard meetings. Included with the free version of Vyew are five meeting rooms, VOIP, whiteboards, desktop sharing, presentation upload, collaboration, webcam, user-permission control, user invite, private/public chat, and much more.
The only downside to the free version (besides the five-room limitation) is the inability to record and play back. But with the incredible amount of features, you should find that limitation an afterthought. Vyew also enjoys one of the best UIs of all the tools tested. Although there are a ton of features in this meeting resource, the learning curve is very shallow.
Vyew is good for meetings, collaboration, training, and more.
WizIQ is an outstanding entry in this arena. What stands out with WizIQ is the ability to create classes that users can join. The creator can have multiple classes arranged and saved, so it's only a matter of signing in, clicking the class you want to start, and adding attendees.
The UI is very intuitive, and the feature list includes whiteboard, chat, multiple "classes" that can be created/joined, VOIP, Webcam, session recording, multiple whiteboards, and much more.
The biggest downfall for WizIQ is that all attendees must also register for the product. If you do not register, you cannot attend the meeting.
WizIQ is great for teachers, students, and anyone who needs to manage multiple meetings/classes.
Yugma is the only other tool in this list that actually installs an application on your system (the other three run from Web-based windows). With a free Yugma account, you can invite up to 20 attendees to a meeting. You will also have at your disposal a built-in instant messaging client (public and private chats available) and Skype integration.
The free version does give you 15- day access to all of the paid features. When the trial period is over, you will have to bump up to a paid version to get the bulk of the features. For basic teleconferencing, Yugma will do in a pinch, but only the paid version has whiteboard tools. Although limited, the free version of Yugma can serve anyone well who needs a very basic teleconferencing meeting without the bells and whistles of the other tools.
Yugma can serve anyone well who needs a very basic teleconferencing meeting without the bells and whistles of the other tools.
As you might expect, both WizIQ and Vyew easily bubble up to the top of this list as the favorites. But because all users must register with WizIQ, I have to hand the mantel of "best in breed" for free remote meeting applications to Vyew. Not only is this tool incredibly powerful, it's also about as user friendly as it can be.
Do you agree? Have you come across a free online meeting tool that can top either Vyew or WizIQ? If so, what would you say gives it the advantage? And what features do all of these miss out on? Is there something lacking in the free (or even paid versions) that keep you from taking advantage of online meeting tools? Share your opinions with your fellow TechRepublic readers.
Stay on top of the latest Microsoft Windows tips and tricks with TechRepublic's Windows Desktop newsletter, delivered every Monday and Thursday. Automatically sign up today!
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.