When Adobe approached me last month about the launch of Connect 8 (announced today), I was tempted to pass on a review. I've gotten in the habit of really liking every Adobe product I touch. And Adobe makes expensive software that it pains me to recommend. I like to call myself an open source advocate, but every time I review some piece of Adobe software, whether it's Flash Catalyst, Acrobat X, Photoshop, or just about any other content creation tool, I can't help but recommend it because there just isn't anything else on the market that can match it. Adobe is crushing any sort of open source credibility I might have left and Connect is no different. It's simply so good at what it does, that it's a natural solution for businesses of all sizes, schools, and anyone else that needs to take their conferencing or webinar solutions to a whole new level.
So here I go again. I'm going to tell you about Connect 8, how it's cooler than version 7.5, why it's one of the cooler products I've ever used, and why it's better than anything else out there.
The most important thing to know about Connect 8 is that it can enhance virtually any meeting, whether in person or remote, and record a meeting like no other tool (not even an awesome secretary). Schools use Connect to turn the wall of laptops in many lecture halls into engagement tools and it's mighty hard to fiddle with your BlackBerry in a meeting when you're expected to be providing feedback, contributing to a whiteboard session, sharing resources, and adding notes. And the whole thing is being recorded for reference later. And not just audio recording, but every stroke on the interactive whiteboard, every screenshare, every instant message, every video feed. All of it.
There are a number of Connect competitors. WebEx, GoToMeeting, Microsoft LiveMeeting, and many others have compelling feature sets and work very well. However, most require some sort of client or plug-in software. Connect only requires Flash which may not be without its problems or detractors but is installed on 97% of the computers online worldwide today. This means that, with rare exceptions, anytime you ask someone to join you in your "Connect Room," they should be able to without any hassle or lengthy client download. How often have you been running late for a WebEx meeting and been even later when the plug-in needed to install? Or been using a machine that balked at LiveMeeting's software? This is one reason, in fact, that Connect is often favored by vendors who want to immediately pull potential clients into a Connect room and share anything from their desktop to files for download. http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=41133&preview=true
The idea of a Connect Room is also important, both to the use of the software and to its entire value proposition. In a physical meeting room, if you leave files on a table, drawings on a whiteboard, or notes on a wall, they're still there the next time you enter the room. In the same way, Connect gives users the ability to establish a meeting room (or multiple rooms) in which the contents are persistent between sessions. The layout of the rooms are also highly customizable, allowing a focus, for example, on a large webcam feed or a shared whiteboard. These focus areas can be switched on the fly, as can the presenter. Again, all of these features aren't unique to Connect 8, but they do all happen to be packaged in a revamped, elegant user interface that begs for people to work together and share in ways that can barely be achieved in a board room, let alone over the web in previous conferencing products.
Although all meetings can be accessed directly via any modern browser with Flash, they can also be accessed via the new cross-platform, Air-based desktop client. This client can manage your Connect contacts and meetings, but far more importantly, can search and download your organization's recorded Connect sessions for offline viewing.
It's worth noting that, like most web conferencing solutions, Connect compresses and optimizes traffic associated with rich web applications like this one. However, Connect gives presenters the ability to throttle bandwidth if users are experiencing latency issues. My first demo of Connect 8 took place as I was tethered to my mobile phone with one bar of 3G. A couple of tweaks on the presenter's side and full-motion web-cam capture was no problem, along with minimal lag during a screen share (including my ability to take over and control the presenting computer).
I could obviously go on for a while about this, but there is one more key differentiator that absolutely makes Connect the top choice in this space. As noted in the press release,
Adobe Connect Mobile enables participants to view meetings on mobile devices. Adobe Connect Mobile works on Apple iPhone and iPad, as well as Google Android and other mobile devices enabled with Adobe Flash technology.
Talk about a killer enterprise app for a tablet.
I'm starting to seriously use a Connect 8 demo account this week to look more deeply into applications for small businesses and schools, so I'll report back soon with additional real-world use cases and screen shots. We know that the product scales well, given that the US Department of Defense uses Connect with more than 5 million users (it was the only web conferencing system that could support the security they required). It will be interesting, though, to ensure that Connect's value plays out as pricing becomes available in the context of smaller organizations who still must connect to colleagues and customers but lack the deep pockets of Adobe's major enterprise customers.
Any way it goes, Connect 8 has the potential to drastically change the way we meet and interact. George Clooney's Up in the Air character might disagree with me, but I'll take a Connect 8 account any day over more frequent flier miles.