Easy, Free Online Meetings for Collaboration

In a previous reader poll, I asked folks whether or not they did online meetings. A few of you said yes, but most of you answered, “What is an online meeting?” I’ll try to clarify online meeting for you and introduce you to a tool that makes online meetings easy to do and at no cost.

An online meeting can be defined as a session where you and at least one other person are collaborating on a project in real time via your computers. Say Bob and Jay are in two different locations. Bob wants to have a discussion with Jay about a presentation that is vital to their business. Bob can email the document to Jay with some notes, wait for Jay to review the document, add his own notes, and email it back to Bob so that he can add his changes and finalize the presentation. This process can take a few iterations before the presentation is considered customer ready.

Why not have Bob and Jay work together on the presentation over the phone? While that can be more productive than emailing it back and for, you really don’t get the best collaboration until both of you can see the document together at the same time.

So how about if Bob and Jay sit in front of their respective computers, in whatever city they may be in at the time, and work on the document together. How you say? By starting an online meeting.

An online meeting has the benefits of a face-to-face meeting without having to be in the same place. As long as Bob and Jay have Internet access and a browser, they have the tools they need to start an online meeting. They get the real-time collaboration, the ability to view the document at the same time. Even share their desktops with each other.

zoho_meetingHere is a free tool from Zoho called Zoho Meeting that can help you get started with online meetings. Note: Zoho meeting is free while in beta. Take advantage of it now, before they start charging.

With Zoho Meeting, only the meeting host needs to sign up for an account. Others do not need an account in order to join an existing meeting. Once you sign up for a free account, you can begin hosting meetings. It is a very simple process and only takes a minute or two to get started.

Meeting presenters can be both MAC or PC based users while meeting participants can be on Windows, MAC, or Linux; and Safari, Firefox, and IE browsers are all supported. Once the meeting presenter starts the meeting, he or she sends invites to participants via email. A link in the email will direct them to Zoho’s meeting web page where they can click to join the meeting.

Meeting participants can choose to either view the meeting with an ActiveX control (Windows only), Java (all platforms), or through the browser using Flash (Flash must be installed). The ActiveX and Java options will allow for a better experience when asking to take control, or viewing full screen, but the Flash version is useful for simply displaying data without a lot of interactivity, but is not limited to that.

So now, if Bob starts a meeting on his computer he will, by default, be sharing his desktop to all the other meeting participants. They can see where he clicks and what text he types as if they were looking over his shoulder. There is even a chat feature that can be utilized if long distance phone charges are a concern. The Zoho team has also expressed interest in integrating Skype (the free online phone service) with Zoho Meeting for even more savings.

For now, the free version of Zoho Meeting is able to handle my meeting needs pretty well. Currently, there is no limit to the number of meetings you can hold or participate in, or the number of participants that can be in a single meeting. Zoho has not said yet whether this will change once the product is out of beta, or if there will be tiered pricing for more meeting participants. Zoho Meeting works well behind a firewall and uses SSL encryption for security.

webex_logoTo be fair, Zoho is not the only game in town. You can also try Adobe Acrobat Connect, which has a free 15-day trial and allows you to define your own URL for meetings. Also, Webex has a very nice product that starts out at $39/month.

I urge you to check out Zoho Meeting and see how easy it is to collaborate with others. Don’t forget to also check out their other online products (many of them free too) like Zoho Writer (for word processing), Zoho Sheet (for spreadsheets), Zoho Show (for presentations), and many others.

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31 Responses to “Easy, Free Online Meetings for Collaboration”

  1. Zoho is a great product for people that do not want to invest in something like WebEx. WebEx has some additional functionality that can be useful but if all you are interested in is collaboration then Zoho works well.

  2. klein3351f says:

    Do you know if this allows me to see a participant’s screen and control the mouse there? ie… would this allow me to troubleshoot mom’s computer from another state?

  3. @klein3351f

    Yes. There is a “Remote Assistance” feature that can be used to pass control back and forth. After you login to the Zoho Meeting site, you will be able to see a RemoteAssitance button in the upper right-hand corner.

  4. Hugh Fraser says:

    Is this available in the uk?

  5. @Hugh,
    I don’t see any reason why the UK would be restricted. If you can reach the Zoho site, then I’m sure you can use the service (for now). All I can say is “give it a try” and let us what happens.

  6. Technically, the service is not new, it’s been in a private beta since March but today Zoho Meeting becomes available to all

  7. Annie says:

    I have never even heard of Zoho. I will have to check it out. Thanks

  8. Hi, I think Zoho meeting service looks pretty good, I just had a chance to test today…i’m curious to know if they will charge after beta or offer as a free service.

    We also have live meeting available for $50/month, accommodates up to 25 users in each meeting…

  9. I think ZOHO can become a serious competitor to Google’s online office suite. WebEx valuation of $3.2 billion is good enough to appreciate the value of this project. ZOHO houses most of its development team in India – around some 100 developers. This should drastically bring down their development cost enabling them to deliver more features for the same cost and spend more on marketing and other priorities.

  10. Serge says:

    Hi there, i used to have meetings via Skype, thought it was the best way to make a conversation. Thanks for introducing Zoho, it was new for me.

  11. JF says:

    Does it also provide a dial in for the conference call?

  12. @JF,
    Unfortunately, Zoho Meeting does supply a conference call bridge number. However, most people have chosen to use Skype with Zoho Meeting in order to incorporate voice on the meetings.

  13. meetmenow says:

    Even with the built in bridge number it’s easier to use skype. But if you have any non techy people use the bridge number. i find it much easier to use that than try and explain how to set up skype and all.

  14. Is it still free in beta at the moment? Do you know how much longer if so?

  15. Ron says:

    I do online meetings all the time. I use skype of course and also YUGMA which is a remote assistance program that totally rocks.

  16. @Ron
    I’m definitely a Skype user, but have never tried it with YUGMA. I’ve heard from others that it can be pretty slow. I’ll have to try it myself to see if there is any merit to that statement.

  17. web survey says:

    I have been using Zoho for about a year now and I have to say it is very easy to use and a great tool. Try it out you will like it.

  18. tuning says:

    hmm, i never heard everything about zoho. so i will take a look.

  19. Hire a Geek says:

    Been using Webex for years now and i’ve never had any problem. The only downside, really, is it’s not free ^_^. Here’s another good freeware i also use: TeamViewer

  20. Geek says:

    Tried Crossloop a bit. It sucked.

  21. Thanks for the interesting post. I have never heard of Zoho but now I need to look into it. I look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  22. We used to always use Skype when we needed to meet with each other (we’re all usually in the same place now though). What does WebEx offer that’s so different from free platforms? I don’t see why would you’d pay when there’s Skype and ZoHo.

  23. I just discovered Mikogo, from a colleague , it’s something similar to Zoho but completely free.

    Webex is also good.

  24. Is zoho still in beta AND free?

  25. Wow I didn’t realize that this was available for free. I’ve been looking for a cheap alternative to what we use now, and this may be just it.

  26. i like webex and it’s really cool. thanks for sharing the article…

  27. I like this better than Webex. Great product!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Easy to Use and Free Online Meeting Tool…

    Have you ever tried to work on a document with a partner that was in a different location? Emailing the document back and forth can be cumbersome, and time consuming. Why not collaborate via an online meeting. Learn how to use Zoho Meeting to help g…

  2. Zoho Blogs says:

    Conduct Online Meetings & Manage your Customer Interactions for Free…

    Michael Hayslip has a great post explaining online meetings & how desktops can be shared easily. From his post,
    An online meeting can be defined as a session where you and at least one other person are collaborating on a project in real time via yo…

  3. […] can take a few iterations before the presentation is considered customer ready. Read more about online meetings […]


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