Browser Based Web Conferencing versus Non-Browser Based Conferencing

Adding a visual component to a conference call can be a powerful business tool.  Web conferencing allows individuals from various locations to hold a meeting in real time while sharing documents and presentations. Similar to conference calling, participants agree to sign in at a specified time. Unlike a standard audioconference, visual presentations are part of the process via the Web, allowing for a more collaborative environment.

Browser-based web conferencing lets users set up virtual meetings on the Web. Meetings are conducted through a computer, laptop, smart phone, or tablet. If a package includes video conferencing, a webcam and microphone are used. Browser-based technology runs through a Web browser, such as Google Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer. Operating system plays no role in its function, because browser-based conferencing tools only require an Internet connection and Web browser to run. The concept is similar to that of instant messaging. However, video conferencing, audio, desktop-like functionality, collaborative browsing, application sharing, file transfers, and other capabilities are available. Because this type of Web conference is browser-based, there is usually no software or equipment to be installed. However, if the host wishes to share their desktop, an installation is required on the host computer. Participants simply need to visit a URL and type in a password to log in.

Non-browser based conferencing, known as a webinar, is a virtual meeting that relies on a web conferencing platform with the audio delivered through telephone. Participants dial in to a toll or toll free number and at the same time sign into an online conference platform. Everyone must install a program onto their computer to access the webinar. The host and participants can share PowerPoint presentations and soft documents with one another. The moderator has the ability to give a presentation while speaking with participants and leading them through slides. Files can be uploaded to the platform to be used during presentations. Most systems allow for desktop sharing, so that all attendees can view the host’s desktop contents in real time. Material and files can be sent to the participants so that they can download the information on their computer.

Browser-based web conferencing has gained popularity because it is cost-effective and simple. It doesn’t usually require any software or installations as the service is contained on a Web browser. This also makes a browser-based web meeting highly portable. As long as an individual has internet access and a Web browser they are able to initiate a conference. Any operating system or device that has Internet access can be used and the host can include all clients, colleagues, and employees regardless of their computer or device.

Many browser-based systems also feature a wider ranger of applications and functions. There is much more flexibility. Another bonus of a browser-based conference system is that it is not affected by firewalls. Most business and even home computers have firewalls to protect the computer from hackers and viruses. If using  proprietary software for conferencing, the firewall may mistake it for a threat. This can cause issues for certain participants who will be unable to access the meeting.

While there are substantial advantages to web conferencing, there are some potential hurdles that need to be understood. For one, the system is only as strong as the user’s Internet connection. Interruptions in internet service can shut down a meeting. Participants may suddenly disappear due to a temporary loss of connection or computer problems. Almost all of the free web conferencing services aren’t supported by a customer service team. If there is a problem with them, there isn’t an operator on stand-by to remedy the situation. Lastly, power outages will end the call for a user. Unlike telephone lines, which still function regardless of a power outage, the Internet will shut down and end the conference.

The disadvantages of webinars include somewhat limited options and decreased amount of flexibility. Often times they rely on proprietary software that must be downloaded on each participant’s computer. All participants must have specific firewall configurations, which can be slightly time consuming, particular for those who aren’t computer savvy. This software may not work on all operating systems or devices, which cuts down the participant pool. While some services allow for desktop sharing and collaborative Web browsing, others only offer PowerPoint capabilities or a few basic functions.

Choosing between browser-based web conferencing or a webinar system, depends on the needs of the business. Larger businesses, or those discussing sensitive information, will benefit from a non-browser based format for security, reliability, and audio quality. A small business, with members on the go, could find browser-based conferencing a better option. The key areas to look at when choosing any web conferencing provider are security, quality, function, portability, ease of use, and reliability.