SAN FRANCISCO (05/01/2000) - Meetings are the ties that bind business. Without meetings--no matter what Dilbert says--commerce grinds to a halt. Today, widely dispersed participants can meet without spending a fortune getting together.
Placeware Inc.'s MyPlaceWare.com, a no-cost e-meeting service, lets you host meetings of up to five people on the Web, using nothing more complicated than a Java-enabled browser.
MyPlaceWare's meeting interface is a Java display that lists participants and has a window for slides. Meetings are structured around presentations that the host uploads in any PowerPoint format, but other tools enable the service to trump simple on-the-Web slideshows. You can preside over gatherings with a whiteboard, insert live Web pages into the conference, and show everyone an active application.
Once slides are uploaded, the presenter clicks to post them on others' screens.
Transitions, however, don't make the trip. For flexibility, you can upload multiple presentations and then swap them during the meeting, but combining shows entails both selecting and copying individual slides.
You can add slides on the fly, too, and stick live Web pages into the presentation (though you can't take other meeting participants on a tour of the site). The site also lets you broadcast an application, a neat trick: You maneuver a frame atop the app, and anything within the frame shows on others' consoles. Display speed depends, of course, on connection speed. When we relied on a poky 28.8-kbps modem, for instance, slides popped up almost as soon as the presenter finished clicking, but apps lagged 4 or 5 seconds behind.
Aside from the five-participant maximum, there are no restrictions: You can hold as many meetings as you want, and each can run up to 4 hours. If you need more features, a pay-as-you-go version (which should be available by the time you read this) will let you boost the number of attendees, permanently retain slideshows, and record complete sessions.
The freebie MyPlaceWare lacks extras like audio conferencing or file transfer-which software presenters like NetMeeting have-but for this price, we aren't complaining.
Meet me on the web: MyPlaceWare lets you present slideshows and display running applications in your online meetings.
PRO: Free Web meeting service lets you present PowerPoint slideshows or broadcast applications in action.
CON: Five-participant maximum per meeting; slideshows lack transitions.
VALUE: Saves time and travel costs, and fulfills most meeting needs.