Citrix GoToMeeting

Compared to other online conferencing services, GoToMeeting aims low, providing just screen-sharing and voice tools; some of its competitors offer video conferencing, document sharing, and more. That makes GoToMeeting a streamlined alternative that may be too simple for some.

For $49 a month, GoToMeeting lets you connect with up to 15 attendees at a time in as many online meetings as you wish. You can upgrade to accounts that accommodate more attendees, but Citrix (NASDAQ: CTXS) doesn’t publish the prices for those; you’ll have to call directly for a quote.

As the meeting creator, you’ll connect first through the GoToMeeting Web site. The service then installs an application on your Mac. You invite participants by e-mailing them your meeting number; they enter it into the GoToMeeting site. (Each new meeting is assigned its own number.) The process is straightforward, but it can take a full minute as everyone downloads and installs the client.

You can communicate in meetings three ways: phone conferencing, built-in VoIP, or built-in text chat. For voice calls, participants dial a long-distance phone number provided by GoToMeeting or talk through the VoIP tool. An optional, toll-free call-in line is also available, but it costs as much as $.15 per minute per caller; the rate goes down if you buy a monthly plan.

GoToMeeting pools the conference call audio from both feeds. In one of its most thoughtful touches, GoToMeeting marks the current speaker’s name on screen so everyone knows who’s talking.

As host, you can present files directly from your Mac; you don’t have to upload them anywhere first. That means you can show any file that runs on your machine-PowerPoint or Keynote slide deck, PDF, whatever you want-within their native applications. You can also pass control to another participant, who can then remotely control your Mac.

Can’t keep up

Building meetings around screen-sharing works on a basic level, but in my tests GoToMeeting had trouble keeping up with quick changes on screen. Paging steadily through static slides is fine. But swapping applications causes a momentary delay in participants’ views while the screen redraws. And forget about trying to present video content or a live demonstration of full-motion applications. GoToMeeting just can’t keep up.

The GoToMeeting client interface never feels entirely Mac-like. As host, you can control meetings easily, with controls for muting, kicking-out meeting participants, and more. But the ugly control buttons adopt a VCR metaphor in some cases and show icons in others. Sometimes the interface just seems untested and unrefined; see, for example, the way it has to collapse one section of the client window to fit into a MacBook’s 1,280×800-pixel screen. Worst of all, Mac users can’t record meetings, a feature that’s available in the PC software. A Citrix representative says that they’re working on adding this in an update but didn’t reveal a release date.

GoToMeeting includes 128-bit AES protection to encrypt your data, keeping your meetings private. The service also has a iPad free app that lets participants view meetings and participate via VoIP; there’s no iPhone app yet. The iPad app works fine for viewing a meeting, but you can’t initiate one from it.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

If all you need is basic screen-sharing, GoToMeeting can handle the job. Its small set of features make the service simple to use. But its clunky interface and inability to record sessions leave it lagging more attractive alternatives.

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