While enterprise-level "telepresence" systems have been available for decades, they were inconvenient and hideously expensive, with base systems often topping $100,000. Then along came Apple's FaceTime in 2010, and the world changed. Workers began using FaceTime and a whole host of other consumer-level products while IT departments scrambled to keep up. Conference calling systems, screen-sharing systems, and webinar systems quickly cobbled video into their platforms. Demand soon exceeded capacity — sometimes literally, but more often in performance, stability, and features. Small business users wanted enterprise-level security with a simple click-and-join user experience.
Zoom was designed from the ground up specifically for videoconferencing, webinars, online courses and training, and video demos. Its web interface and apps are extremely convenient and easy to use, and I particularly like the deep focus on security. Zoom claims both System and Organization Controls (SOC) 2 audits and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance.
Zoom can host and broadcast online meetings for as many as 100 interactive participants (add-on packages increase this limit to 500) and up to 10,000 in view-only mode. It provides high-quality video, audio, and screen-sharing capabilities and allows users to start and join a meeting instantly with a single touch of their mobile device or browser. Meeting originators can invite other participants to join the webinar with a URL that can be copied and posted to social media, sent via instant message, or emailed. I find this feature particularly useful when dealing with people with limited permissions who cannot download and install a local client. They can just click a URL and join the meeting directly through their browser. Zoom integrates with Outlook, Microsoft Active Directory, Slack, and myriad others. It supports high-definition video and HD voice with dynamic voice-detection functionality and provides significant screen-sharing functionality. You can share your entire screen, just the active window, or a whiteboard with illustrations and diagrams.
Group collaboration is also provided. This feature allows the creation of groups and supports sharing text, image, or audio files to the members of those groups. Group members can invite others to join the group. It has drag-and-drop capability, so group members can share files instantly. They can also annotate documents. Finally, Zoom provides recording functionality in either MP4 or M4A video formats stored either on a local device or on the web.
Other entries in this space include Adobe Connect, Amazon Chime, ClickMeeting, GoToMeeting, Join.Me, Skype WebEx, and Zoho Meeting. Some are excellent, most are adequate, and a few are "not ready for prime time."
- Website: zoom.us
- Operating platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone, and iPad
- Cost: The free, limited version includes unlimited one-on-one meetings and group meetings with up to 100 participants (limited to 40 minutes). The Pro Plan, available for $15 per month per host, adds unlimited-duration group meetings, custom personal meeting IDs, and various other user management tools. Also available are the Business Plan and Enterprise Plan, both at $20 per month per host.
Greg LaFollette (email@example.com) is a strategic adviser with CPA.com, the commercial subsidiary of the American Institute of CPAs.