For various reasons I’m unable to travel much at the moment, yet the last few weeks has seen two of the most important events of the year for me: one in Seattle and one in Toulouse. I was there, but not there, for both.

The first, GO-ESSP, the conference venue was Seattle Public Library, the local hosts had selected yugma professional as sharing technology, and I was mostly at home (1 Mbs broadband with a following wind and then the various bits of string in the public Internet). For the second, the conference was in a room at cerfacs, the technology was Acrobat Connect Pro (ACP), and much of the time I was at work (1 Gbs LAN connected via SuperJanet to GEANT … you get the picture).

For the first, there was a bigger audience, and I sense, a bigger room. For the second, it seemed smaller and more intimate. Some were at both, maybe someone can tell me the relative sizes of the rooms! I did get video in to the second, but not the first … the second got video of me, for what it was worth :-).

In truth, the biggest part of the difference came down to reliability of the internet, and reliability of the audio (we chose to use normal teleconferencing as well as the adobe connect for the latter, mainly because of echo cancelling issues which we didn’t quite nail down in the pre-event trial).

As far as audio goes, my home long distance carrier was onetel. It isn’t any more … I spent the first day of the Seattle meeting frustrated because I couldn’t hear what was going on, on the second, I called in briefly by mobile, and realised that onetel was much of the problem. With BT, I could hear the speaker fine. In general however, I couldn’t hear the audience questions, or the replies (I guess the speakers were perambulating around the front away from a fixed mike). In Toulouse (I think) they only had one mike, but it seemed to be much better at getting everyone (albeit with a few requests for repeats from me) … hence my comment about venue size. The take home message I think is: to support external audio, in a larger room, use a mike strapped onto the speaker, and position folk with microphones to pass to the audience for questions (or get the speaker to repeat them - a bit of that happened in Seattle, but often when the speaker had been let too far out on her/his tether :-). In a smaller room you can get by with one or two mikes.

Both technologies allow virtual desktop sharing, and in the case of ACP, I was even able to control the remote desktop in Toulouse and move the mouse around to highlight stuff. Of course, in practise though, the network was the big discriminator: I don’t know much about Seattle public library, but I’m guessing their network wasn’t provisioned for a couple of dozen simultaneous VPN downloads of large software packages and datasets. (What would you do if the speaker just advertised some cool thing? Yes, that’s right, download it right then and there, and play with it for the rest of the presentation.) So yugma cut out quite a lot, and one or two presentations were basically lost at sea.

What do I think about the two technologies? Well, there’s no doubt that at least in terms of the two clients I used, ACP is far more full featured (even though it is hamstrung on linux, unlike yugma which seemed O/S agnostic). I think for smaller meetings, ACP would be significantly better in that it can take over your camera and microphone and do the multiple windows thing naturally, and for bigger meetings it might not make much difference - with one reservation. With yugma it appears you are reliant on their servers … with ACP, we can (and did) use our own server (in Germany), which implies that if local networks are not the pinch point, we can avoid pinch points at the server by deploying our own. I don’t know if one can do that with yugma. (I should say that I don’t know what the cost was to deploy either solution!) However, regardless of which is the winner, I was damned glad both were available. I felt like I got a good deal of benefit out of my late nights “in” Seattle, even without the questions, and I felt like I was really there in Toulouse (and in the latter case everyone else felt like I was there too)!

One last point: for those of you in Seattle, who had the delight of hearing my three-year old daughter interject during a talk: that’s what happens when your laptop fan dies, and you have to resort to the desktop in the dining room, and when you fail to correctly implement the mute … :-) Had i known the audio from my end was so good, well maybe I’d have been asking some questions too!

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