The digital revolution will be a success when the physical location of people becomes irrelevant to the quality of human interaction. And it will be a wild success when people in different locations can interact with greater focus than if they were all in the same room.
Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional (formerly known as Macromedia Breeze), used for conferencing over the Web, is a giant step in the direction of that success.
This is the smoothest and easiest low-end conferencing with high-end functionality we have seen. Acrobat Connect Professional (Adobe’s first iteration of assimilating Breeze since Adobe announced it would acquire Macromedia) is solid, easy to use and simple to operate.
Large organizations can purchase their own server license. Smaller organizations can have an annual subscription, a monthly subscription or pay-per-use that runs through an Adobe server. A five-user starter pack is $375 per month. A 10-user starter pack is $750 per month. Or one may pay 32 cents per minute per user.
For fixed, point-to-point communication requiring high-quality video —like a deposition—we would prefer Polycom products. But for meetings, distributed training sessions and working files, Acrobat Connect Professional shines. It focuses on situations where human video content, though available, is less important than verbal, documentary and messaging content. It has on-the-fly functionality for universal participation anywhere via Web browser.
We tested screen-sharing capabilities, which can be limited to a single window from the presenter’s computer or a group of windows or the entire screen. The meeting had an agenda in one whiteboard window and included 10 people from around Iowa, with David Beckman running the meeting from home and David Hirsch participating from the office. Only Beckman was on camera (in a small window), though others could have been.
IN A FLASH
the way attendees get to a meeting is with a URL that goes through breezecentral.com. The meeting runs in Flash Player within a Web browser from the client side. (Adobe claims 98 percent of Web browsers worldwide already have installed what is now Adobe Flash Player.) No special programming is needed locally for an administrator to set up meetings hosted by Adobe’s servers. Everything is easily set up using a password-protected login.
The actual meeting features a screen that has a clean look and feel. On the left are small, vertically aligned, resizable boxes, including camera and voice, an attendee list, and a status list with respect to each attendee. In each box are icons indicating: I have a question; go faster or slower; thumbs-up or thumbs-down; speak louder or softer; stepped away.
Also in the left column of boxes is an instant-message-type area to chat privately with an individual or publicly with all. One can block and copy from the chat window but not the whiteboard window, unless one has editing privileges.
The software is easy to use, despite the richness of the features. Firewall problems largely vanish without obvious security compromises. There is 128-bit SSL encryption for privacy.
An interesting application would be to conduct virtual hearings that do not involve witness testimony. A court administrator could e-mail a notice that contains the URL for the hearing login. Document exhibits could be uploaded, and briefs and motions could also be in windows.
Maybe someday appellate oral arguments will be virtual conferences instead of long trips to central locations. Done right, the trend to eliminate oral arguments in appeals might be reversed, with the administration of justice enhanced.
Pricing may be an impediment to instant, universal acceptance—but for the right situations, the tool is impressive. It is a major step forward, facilitating the ability to work concrete problems virtually.