by March 14, 2002 0 comments



Video conferencing from the desktop is becoming quite popular–a range of free and commercial video-conferencing applications is available. Most of them offer more functionality than simple video conferencing. Microsoft’s NetMeeting, for instance, goes beyond simple video conferencing to let you share applications and use a whiteboard as you would in a regular meeting. Others like IMs (instant messengers), too, having evolved into something much more than applications to send text messages, come with video-conferencing capabilities. With them, you can see the person you’re talking to, share desktops and exchange files.

But how do you set up and hold video conferences with these applications? Read on to know how do so in NetMeeting (comes bundled with Windows), Yahoo IM (freely available on the Net), and Lotus SameTime (commercially available).

You’ll also find several video-conferencing software on the CD accompanying this issue. 

NetMeeting
You can use NetMeeting for much more than video conferencing–you can chat, share files, work on applications together and use whiteboards. For these you don’t even need a
webcam. 

These features let you save time and effort, as you can do collaborative work from your desk. The best part, of course, is that since NetMeeting is a part of Windows, you don’t need to spend a paisa for it. 

Let’s see how to get NetMeeting up and running. For video conferencing, you’ll need a webcam, sound card, and microphone.

Install first 
If you’d installed NetMeeting during your Windows installation, you’ll find it under the Communications tab in Accessories. If not, open the NetMeeting folder from Programs file folder and click on the file called conf.exe to bring up a wizard. The wizard will ask you for some details, like your name, e-mail and location. When it asks for your connection speed, choose Local Area Network if you’ll use it on your local network. It will ask if you want to log on to an online directory service when NetMeeting starts. If you say Yes, your name will be published in an online directory, so virtually anyone in the world can see your name there and talk to you. This is useful if you want to talk to people outside your network. 

Netmeeting: How many people?

In NetMeeting, more people can join a conference by connecting to the host. In NetMeeting 2.1, 32 computers can be connected to each other. However, even if one user has an older version, then only three computers can be connected at one time. 
Also, NetMeeting supports video and audio between two computers only (the host and the first computer to connect to the host). The other people will be able to use features other than audio and video. You’ll find these at the bottom of NetMeeting window in a toolbar, which has four small icons: Program Sharing, Whiteboarding, Chatting and File sharing.

Finally, it will do a small audio test to ensure your speakers and microphone are working. If you don’t have a sound card then this won’t show up. You can now create a desktop shortcut for Net
Meeting.


Host and Join Meetings
One of the participants will be the host for that meeting. Fire up NetMeeting and under the Call menu choose Host meeting. You can now define the properties for your meeting, like meeting name, password and the tools that can be used. Once this is done click OK. 

The other users can now connect to this host using its machine name or IP address. For this go to the Call menu, choose New call, and type in the host machine’s details. The host will get this request, once it accepts which the two machines will connect. 

If the meeting is between two points and webcams are installed at both ends, then both sides will be able to see each other in the preview window. They can talk to each other using the microphone and listen through the speakers. They can make other finer adjustments, like choosing the audio codec, changing the video size and quality, by going to the Tools menu and choosing Options.

 Use white board
Whiteboarding has become a common term when talking of collaborative applications. a whiteboard is a common area where many people can draw and write simultaneously to share ideas. What’s more, these people can be sitting at different places–in your office, a remote office, or even in a different country. This saves a lot of time, effort and traveling expenses on the part of the participants. 

To activate a whiteboard in NetMeeting, just click on its icon during a conference. Once activated, the Windows Paint application will be started and all users will be able to simultaneously use it. a user can also lock it if he wants sole ownership of the whiteboard, so that others can see what is being done on the whiteboard, but not write on it. 

Share files
File sharing is a simple feature that lets you send files to other users in a conference. This is a quick and easy way to share data between many users. To do this, just click on the file-sending icon, browse to the file you want to send and chose the user who you want to send it to. The only problem here is that it let’s you close, open, or delete the file only after it’s been transferred, which is not very good if you’re doing it over a WAN link.

Share applications
The application-sharing feature of NetMeeting lets a group of people work simultaneously on the same application. This can be used by a teacher to give demonstrations to multiple students, or by a group of people who need to work together on an application, like on a worksheet in Excel. Your IT helpdesk, for instance, can use this to troubleshoot user complaints. 
To share an application you have to open the desired application during your conference and then click on the Share program button at the bottom of the NetMeeting window. This opens a list of applications that are currently running and you can choose the one you wish to share. Once shared, each user can ask for control, and only one person can work on the application at a time.

Share desktop 
Remote desktop sharing is similar to program sharing, but also lets other people take complete control of your desktop using NetMeeting. This is especially useful for IT staff of an organization as they can fix many computer-related problems without leaving their seats. 

You can allow or deny a user to have a video conference with you

During a conference, click on the Share program button and from the list of applications pick Desktop. Once shared you can chose to grant control to specific users. 

Yahoo Messenger 
Before we get into video conferencing in Yahoo Messenger, keep in mind that video over IP isn’t yet legal in the country. It’s expected to be legalized after April this year. Till then, using Yahoo Messenger for video conferencing will be illegal, as it uses the Internet for the same. 

Video conferencing is a new feature in Yahoo Messenger 5.0 or later. First ensure that you have a webcam and sound card installed on your machine. To start a video conference, login to Yahoo, go to your Tools menu and choose Start my webcam. But make sure no other application that may be using your webcam is running on your system. A window called My webcam will pop up, which will show you live video feed from your webcam. Other users who have you on their list will now see a line next to your nickname, saying View my webcam. If any user clicks on this, you will get a message asking you to allow/deny the user’s request to have a video conference with you. 

You can make changes to your webcam settings by going to the Login menu and choosing Preferences. You can change your image quality, adjust brightness, contrast, create a list of people who will always be allowed to see you, and more. You can also find out who is watching you at any given point by clicking on the Webcam menu in your webcam window and choosing Whose watching me? From this list you can also remove people. 

You can create a list of people who will always be allowed to see you

Meet many people
If you want to have a meeting among multiple people, you’ll have to use the conference option in Yahoo Messenger. For this, go to Tools and select Invite to conference. You can then pick from the users that are online and invite them to your conference. Each user will be displayed a message asking him whether he wants to join your conference. Make sure there is a tick next to Enable voice for this conference, if you want to talk to the other people. The conference windows now opens with the list of people that are present in the conference. If you have a webcam can now enable it by clicking on the webcam icon, which is placed just under the menu bar.

If you want to see any of the participants in that conference then right click on their name in the list and select View webcam. A message will be sent to them, asking them for permission. If you want to say something, click on the green Talk button, and say it. For listening just keep your speaker volume turned up.

Before you get over excited with this concept, remember that all parties participating in the conference will need a good Net connect (at least 56 kbps) for all this to work.

Lotus SameTime
Lotus SameTime is a commercial IM solution from IBM. It has two components, a client that runs on any Windows-based machine and a server that installs on a Win NT/2000 server. It’s extremely simple to set up, and we had a basic SameTime implementation up and ready for use in less than an hour. You can either install it on a standalone server or integrate it with an existing Lotus Domino implementation if you have one. In the latter case, it can become a part of an existing workflow application in Lotus Notes. The server installation is also divided in two parts. One is the basic installation, which supports text-based chat and online meetings. The other is Multimedia services, which adds voice and video-conferencing capabilities to the installation. 

You can select the tools–simple chat, screen sharing, whiteboarding, audio and video–
for your meeting

SameTime doesn’t have a separate management interface or administrative console. It runs as services in the background, and the management is done through a Web browser. It sets up its own Web server to be accessible using a Web browser. Therefore, if you’re using Internet Information Server, then you’ll need to install SameTime on a separate Win NT/2000 server installation. 

You can communicate using the SameTime Connect client and also a Web browser. After installation, it allows the client to be downloaded using a Web browser and even let’s users register from there. The administrator can block off online registration and manually create all user ids to streamline everything. 

Search for others
Once the client is connected to the server, you can search for other users based on their name and add them to the contact list. You can click on any user on your list and start a meeting by right clicking on their name. Before this, you can select the tools for the meeting. The tools include simple chat, screen sharing, whiteboarding, audio and video. For audio and video make sure your sound card and webcam are installed. 

These features can also work remotely, but would require a lot of bandwidth. You can also schedule meetings to take place at certain times. All meetings take place in a Web browser, and your browser must support JavaScript. 

As soon as the meeting starts you’ll be able to see the other person in a small window named Speaker’s video. You can also
see your own video by clicking on My video. 

If you are facing problems with your audio or video then SameTime also offers an audio-video tuning wizard, which helps you test and configure your miicrophone, speakers and
webcam. 

Sachin Makhija

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