Collaborate online with GoToMeeting

Collaborate with technical staff in remote offices using the Citrix GoToMeeting application.

While having three or four people looking over a high priority issue seems like a good way of reducing the time it takes to find a resolution, having three or four people connecting to the same box and poking around trying to fix the same problem is a recipe for disaster. A much safer approach would be to work collaboratively as a team with only one person having control at any given time.

As part of a recent application migration project I found myself needing to work closely with technical consultants and sys admins in other towns, countries, and continents. During that time I was introduced to GoToMeeting, a great little Web conferencing service from Citrix. The host can schedule meetings and invite guests via the GoToMeeting Web site, e-mail or Instant Messaging. Attendees receive a URL and view the host's screen via a Web browser-- Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari are all supported.

GoToMeeting has a nice set of features including keyboard and mouse sharing, allowing the host to hand over control to an attendee. There are various ways the host can present his screen -- Selecting the "CLEAN" option enables a presentation mode that hides any desktop icons, wallpaper, and the taskbar. If focus needs to be on one particular application, then that application can be shared leaving the host free to use other applications at the same time without other participants seeing them. A voice conference session is created with each meeting the details of which are displayed on attendee's screens.

The ability to rapidly set up meetings and pass control around between attendees makes it an ideal tool for allowing technical staff to shadow one another. It never hurts to have a second pair of eyes looking over your shoulder; another person may spot something like a typo, which is easily overlooked especially after an overnight session. Quite often specialist skills are required; with remote conferencing, other support staff can watch and learn as their colleague explains exactly what they are doing.

Of course, there are many Web conferencing and remote desktop tools out there. VNC is a good example of a free utility enabling remote desktop and screen sharing. The only issue I have with VNC is that it requires firewall ports to be opened whereas GoToMeeting doesn't. Add the free telephone conferencing in to the mix, and I think GoToMeeting's relatively low monthly cost is easily justified. For just $49 / month an unlimited number of meetings can be held with up to 15 attendees .

GoToMeeting has been my first Web conferencing experience, and I have to say I don't see any reason to look elsewhere. I'd be interested to hear what other people are using for conferencing and online collaboration; leave a comment and let me know what you use.