Host a Virtual Meeting

Collaborate with a video link and a whiteboard.
BY NANCY B. NICHOLS AND STEPHANIE M. BRYANT

Key to Instructions
To help readers follow the instructions in this article, we used two different typefaces:
Boldface type is used to identify the names of icons, agendas and URLs.
Sans serif type shows commands and instructions users should type into the computer and the names of files.

ne of Microsoft’s best-kept secrets is that its software lets you host a virtual meeting by computer in which participants can talk, share files and even see each other—all in real time. The only things you need are access to the Internet and some inexpensive gear if you want to add audio and video.

Virtual meetings allow a group scattered across the globe to collaborate simultaneously on a document, a spreadsheet or a PowerPoint slide, talking via a $10 microphone and seeing each other via a $100 video camera. Members can send files to each other, sketch diagrams or write notes on an electronic whiteboard, and incorporate all the material into a shared document or spreadsheet.

The tool that brings all this to you is Microsoft NetMeeting, a collaborative workgroup application that comes with Windows 95 or later versions and just needs a few mouse clicks to activate. Follow along with us to see how to set up a virtual conference.

GETTING UNDER WAY
To launch NetMeeting on an XP computer click on Start , Run , type conf in the space next to Open and click on OK ( exhibit 1 ).

If your computer runs on Windows 2000 or an earlier version, you can access NetMeeting by clicking on Start , Programs , Accessories , Communications and NetMeeting . If for some reason you can’t find NetMeeting on your computer, you can download it from www.microsoft.com/downloads/search.asp . After you start NetMeeting the following screen will appear ( exhibit 2 ).

Click on Next to generate a screen that allows you to identify yourself ( exhibit 3 ):

The only fields you must fill out are First name , Last name and E-mail address . The name you enter will be displayed as one of the participants in the conference. If you plan to use your computer’s microphone for audio, set the speaker and microphone sensitivity using the Audio Tuning Wizard , which launches automatically ( exhibit 4 ).

If you don’t plan to use the built-in audio (that is, if you plan to use a telephone), skip these steps by clicking on Next for the next several screens. As a practical matter, it’s easier to use a telephone equipped with a speakerphone or a headset so your hands are free to type.

If the computers support video technology—and you and the other participants have small video cameras—then a small window will appear on the screen showing the images forwarded by the remote video ( exhibit 5 ). To use the video option, your computer needs a video capture card or camera that provides a Video for Windows capture driver.

MAKING THE CALL
Participants can join a virtual meeting after the “leader” (the meeting host) opens his or her NetMeeting program ( exhibit 6 ).

To join a meeting, participants need to enter the leader’s Internet Protocol (IP) address (in our example, 131.247 .95.59), which the leader must provide ( exhibit 7 ).

The leader can find his/her computer’s IP address by clicking on Help , About Windows NetMeeting from the NetMeeting menu. The IP address for your computer will display at the bottom of the dialog box ( exhibit 8 ). Though there are other ways to initiate a call, we have found IP addresses to be the simplest.

Leaders should make sure their IP address is “routable”—that is, the address can route traffic on the Internet. Once you find your IP address, you can check to see whether it is routable. The three nonroutable IP ranges are 10.x.x.x; 192.168.x.x; and 172.16.x.x. All others are routable. If your IP address is nonroutable, you can obtain a routable IP address from your Internet service provider.

Once the leader accepts the connection, the participant’s name will appear in the Name box ( exhibit 9 ).

With Windows XP we’ve successfully linked as many as 12 participants. Be aware that the larger the virtual meeting, the greater the likelihood of problems due to bandwidth limitations. Microsoft notes that when NetMeeting is run under Windows 98 or an earlier version, it generally can’t support more than eight participants. Windows NT Workstation can handle up to 16 participants and Windows NT 4.0 Server, up to 26.

One way to overcome these limitations is to have eight people on the call use the leader’s IP address and eight other people use the IP address of one of the first eight participants. We’ve found it generally is not important whose IP address actually is called into as long as each computer that is called into is connected to the leader ( exhibit 10 ).

Exhibit 10 : NetMeeting “Workaround” to Increase the Number of Allowed Participants

Participants 1 through 8 call the leader directly. Participants 9 through 16 call participant 5. An additional eight participants can call each of the participants connected to the leader.

If participants are unable to get through to the leader—that is, the leader’s computer fails to pick up the call—the problem may be a badly programmed firewall, which is the software designed to block hackers. The easiest solution is to call another participant.

To end a meeting call, click on the End Call button ( exhibit 11 ).

SHARE FILES
One of the most important advantages of NetMeeting is that it allows participants to share files and to make changes to those shared files “on the fly.” A convenient feature of NetMeeting is that the application that creates these shared documents does not need to be installed on each participant’s computer.

To enable Application Sharing , the user with the desired application opens it and then clicks on Tools , Sharing or clicks on the Share button ( exhibit 11 ). In our example, we will share a PowerPoint file ( exhibit 12 ).

The application window (the PowerPoint presentation in our example) then will appear on the computer screens of the other participants. By default, the person sharing a program is in control of it. He or she can allow another participant to take control of the application and make changes. The participant desiring control just double-clicks on the shared program, asking for permission to take control of the program (exhibit 13 ).

The initials of the person in control of the program will be displayed next to the pointer. Thus, it’s always clear who is making changes at any given time. The name of the person in control also appears at the very top of the screen ( exhibit 14 ).

SKETCH PICTURES
The whiteboard can be opened by any participant who wants to share sketches or handwritten notes. To open it click on the Whiteboard button (see exhibit 15 ).

The whiteboard application contains several tools to insert text or create an image ( exhibit 16 ).

The whiteboard lets you create multiple pages. It can be locked by a user or freed so that any participant can modify it.

TRANSFER FILES
To transfer a file in NetMeeting, open the file transfer window by clicking on Tools and File Transfer or click on the File Transfer button ( exhibit 17 ).

That evokes this screen ( exhibit 18 ):

By clicking on the down arrow in the upper right corner of the screen you can choose to send the file to a single participant or to all.

After the file is transferred, recipients will be prompted with a standard virus-warning message and the choices: Close , Open or Delete ( exhibit 19 ).

CHAT
Chat allows you to have real-time conversations using text with just one person or all of the participants in the meeting. To chat with someone, click on the Chat button, which is an icon with a balloon. The Chat window will appear ( exhibit 20 ).

Type your message in the Message field, press Enter or click on the Send message button to the right of the message ( exhibit 21 ). The chat is viewed in the larger white area at the top of the window.

If you are conferencing with several people, you can send a private message to just one by clicking on the down arrow in the Send To field and choosing his or her name. To save a chat session, click on File , Save As .

As you can see, the setup and operation of NetMeeting is straightforward, simple and mostly intuitive. Its abundant tools provide most everything CPAs need—whether they are on the road or office-bound—to hold a conference. With NetMeeting we travel and still stay in touch with the office. We wouldn’t leave home without it.

NANCY B. NICHOLS, CPA, PhD, is an associate professor at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia. Her e-mail address is nicholnb@jmu.edu . STEPHANIE M. BRYANT, PhD, is an associate professor at the University of South Florida, Tampa. Her e-mail address is sbryant@coba.usf.edu .

Need Help?
Microsoft provides no official customer support for NetMeeting other than the information
available at www.microsoft.com/windows/netmeeting/default.asp . However,
here are some NetMeeting resources available on the Internet.

Web site Information provided
http://users.aol.com/herbedroom How to use NetMeeting, descriptions and frequently asked questions.
www.meetingbywire.com NetMeeting for beginners, information and tips.
www.support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=/support/
netmeeting/howto/default.asp
Microsoft’s NetMeeting guide.

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