WebEx vs GoToMeeting: Which is king of online meetings?

David Cartwright Vs
2 Feb, 2015

GoToMeeting aims to challenge WebEx as the defacto meeting tool

Online meetings are critical in the business world as they allow remote collaboration between colleagues and customers. Below we'll look at the two best cloud-based meeting services.

The popularity of WebEx has seen it become the defacto online meeting tool. We've lost count of the times we've had a prospective supplier say: “Join our WebEx next Monday” even when they've been using another product.

Product number two is Citrix's GoToMeeting. It's one of a collection of related Cloud applications from Citrix, the others including the file sharing service ShareFile and the remote control app GoToMyPC.

Interface

Both services use a web-based interface. Each has a platform-specific application that's downloaded to each meeting participant's PC the first time they take part in a conference.

As you'd expect both products support all the common platforms (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Windows Phone) with Linux also an option for WebEx. As we're a Mac house we were hosting and joining meetings on a combination of MacBook Pro and iMac machines, all running OS X Yosemite.

Firing up a meeting

Let's start with WebEx. To get going you log into your WebEx account via your browser and initiate a meeting (you can also schedule a meeting for later if you wish). You'll invite people by specifying them on the meeting creation screen; the system then flings them an email containing a link to that specific meeting on the WebEx site. If either party hasn't used WebEx before (or hasn't used it for a while and hence has an old plug-in) they're invited to install the plug-in, and then after a few seconds the client app connects to the meeting. 


Getting going with GoToMeeting is similar: log into the Web site, download the client app if required, and fire up a meeting. On my setup the meeting was reluctant to fire up under the Chrome browser, though it was fine with Firefox. Inviting people is a little more involved than with WebEx; as presenter you fire up the client and click “Invite Others”; the Web site doesn't seem to want to email the participants for you but instead relies on using your computer's on-board email package.

With WebEx the various features are accessed via the normal menu strip (on the Mac, anyhow); GoToMeeting has its own “Control Panel” which sits in front of whatever other content is on the screen.


Talking to each other

Both systems provide the option of connecting to a conference bridge from a normal phone or using the computer's microphone and speakers. WebEx lets you use toll-free numbers but of course this will cost you (as the account holder) because if your participants aren't paying for the call, you are. We reckon you should be absolutely fine with the computer-based audio, and anyway both services have standard phone numbers available worldwide and so any phone-based participants will be able to dial a number that's reasonably local to them.

If you and your participants have a burning desire to see each other, both packages let you do so via the cameras on your computers – just click the WebCam button and the remote parties will see you. Finally, both have text chat facilities, and in both cases you can choose the audience for a particular message (either everyone or a selected user).

Screen sharing

Both services allow you to share your desktop, which is the staple function for those who want to do presentations to remote parties. The functionality's pretty similar in both cases: as the presenter you can share your desktop so that others can see what you're presenting, and you can temporarily allow others to take control of the session should you want one of them to present for a while or do a particular section of the presentation. You do, of course, retain control over the session so you can take back control when you wish.

You may, of course, want to limit what the audience can see instead of sharing your entire desktop; there may be stuff on the desktop that's private or, more likely, you might not want your viewers to see (say) pop-up messages thrown by Outlook or your instant messaging package when new stuff arrives. Both systems let you pick a particular application to show the viewers instead of allowing them to see everything you have in front of you.

Oh, and both packages allow you to record chunks of the presentation for future review or distribution.

File sharing

With WebEx's file sharing feature you can't just share any old thing; the file you share appears in a tab in the recipients' WebEx client screen and so it needs to be in one of the (admittedly many) formats that can be viewed in this way. Acceptable types range from videos and graphics through to PDFs and MS Office documents – though not OpenOffice docs, it would seem, which is annoying as that's my format of choice. For some formats it cheats a little and renders them as PDFs through a virtual print driver before sending them to the remote end for viewing. 

GoToMeeting's a bit behind the curve here - and the lack of a file sharing feature is bemoaned by many in the support forums (and unsurprisingly there are suggestions that one might use ShareFile to fill this gap).

Collaboration

Although I've never had the urge to be able to do freehand scribbling during Web meetings, both packages give you the ability to do so. In WebEx you have a Whiteboard facility, which allows both presenter and participant(s) to do freehand and text-based drawing and writing on a multi-page screen. GoToMeeting also has a “Drawing Tools” along these lines but sadly this is only presently possible with meetings hosted by Windows users.

Playback of recordings

We mentioned that you can record the presentations you do for later playback. With WebEx your recent recordings will appear on the “Home” tab of the browser screen, and clicking on a recording will fire up the “Network Recording Player” application through which you can watch the playback. It'd be a bit restrictive if you had to go through the WebEx site to play recordings back, though, and so the recordings are also available to download to your local computer through the “Meeting Recordings” section of the “Files” tab (though you still have to watch them through the Network Recording Player app). The Windows version of the Network Recording Player allows you to save the file as WMV, though the option didn't seem to be available on the Mac version in our test.

GoToMeeting records your sessions to the local hard disk of your computer by default (you can change precisely where in the Preferences screen). In a fashion similar to WebEx it uses its own proprietary format for recordings in the first instance, but you can then very easily tell it to translate what you've saved into a sensible format (a QuickTime movie in the case of the one I did on my MacBook). Of the two, we found the GoToMeeting recording a little more friendly than the WebEx one, though there's not a lot in it.

Pricing

GoToMeeting

The convener of a meeting is referred to as an “organiser” in Citrix parlance. If you want loads of organiser licences then give Citrix a call, but basic pricing for smaller licences is thus.

GoToMeeting Free is a Chrome add-on available without charge. This offers unlimited-use of video conferencing for up to three people. Ideal for SMBs.

- Paid-for versions are available on a monthly or annual basis, and are based on two factors: (a) the number of organisers; and (b) the number of attendees – you have a choice of 25 or 100. 

- 25-attendee option: £29 per month or £276 per year per organiser.

- 100-attendee option: £34 per month or £326 per year per organiser.

WebEx

WebEx refers to conveners as “hosts”. As with GoToMeeting this pricing is for modest-size licences, and enterprise-size licences are available on requests and with volume discounts.

- Has a basic free version, allowing one host and up to three people in a meeting; audio is limited to VoIP, video quality is limited and application sharing is restricted.

- There are three paid-for versions which have full-resolution video and proper 24x7 support:

- Premium 8: one host, up to eight people per meeting: £15 per month per host.

- Premium 25: up to nine hosts, up to 25 people per meeting: £30 per month per host.

- Premium 100: up to nine hosts, up to 100 people per meeting: £49 per month per host.

Verdict

Were I starting from scratch and looking purely for a web conferencing service I'd go for WebEx. Although it's a shade more expensive than GoToMeeting the additional features are worth it. 

That doesn't mean Citrix has got it wrong. GoToMeeting is more attractive if your organisation is looking to roll out remote access (GoToMyPC), remote helpdesk support (GoToAssist for) and data sharing (ShareFile) in one suite.

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