At a Glance
IBM LotusLive Meetings
Fine if you've already got a teleconferencing service, but it's rough around the edges and missing some features its competitors have.
Instead of physically assembling people for meetings—and eating the cost of travel—online conferencing software lets you hold those meetings online. LotusLive Meetings does that by letting you present files, stream video, share the desktop, and text chat from your Mac. But compared to other online conferencing services, LotusLive Meetings feels a little incomplete.
For a base price $39 a month, LotusLive allows you to meet with up to 15 people at a time. The service scales from there up to 1,000 participants (which costs $99 a month, or $948/year), with several other pricing combinations available in between.
Setting up a meeting with LotusLive is fairly quick. You log in through the Web site and then run everything from within your browser. It only takes a moment to jump in. Once you’ve set up a meeting, you send participants a URL to join. Joining is quick, too; participation requires no extra software, either. One glitch I encountered: If you start a meeting before you send out the URL to guests, the service hides that link and other joining details; you then have to return to a background window to send invitations. It’s a minor inconvenience, but needless hoop.
Participants connect to meetings via built-in text chat—and that’s it. There are no voice-conferencing tools; you'll have to use a third-party teleconference service. If you're using one of those already, that’s great; if you don’t, that’s another hoop the service makes you jump through.
As host, you can show your face to participants via your own webcam. But this is one way; participants can’t share their video feeds. That setup could be fine for seminars with lots of participants, but not for smaller meetings when you’d like to see who you’re talking to.
You can upload Office documents, PDFs, Open Document Format files, or Lotus SmartSuite documents, which participants can then view in their browsers. Those files look good, as good as if they were loaded on the viewer’s own machine. But that document tool is still underdeveloped. Annotation tools let you highlight things on screen, but you can’t add text or other details. You can send files to individual participants, but not to the whole group at once, and the clunky interface only lets you upload one file at a time.
Those aren’t LotusLive's only rough edges. You can only erase one file at a time from among your uploads. And instead of appearing next to the main meeting space, the polling tool (which tabulates live feedback from your audience) pops up in front of everything, stealing focus from your discussion.
LotusLive Meetings tries to salvage itself with a screen-sharing tool that requires no extra installation; you just have to sign off on a security warning within your browser. You can share a live view of your entire screen or of specific application windows. These presentations can lag for a few seconds; that means they're fine for static screens, but don’t try to use this as a work-around for sharing video. The tool can also let participants share their screens (if you make them the meeting moderator).
LotusLive Meetings does have an iPhone client, which lets you join meetings and provides some basic viewing tools. But it won't let participants interact with polls, view webcam feeds, or match other features of the desktop version. The app might be helpful if you’re running late and can’t make it to your Mac in time; otherwise, it adds little value.
A recording tool can save meetings as video files, pooling conference-call audio if applicable. Files are saved in your choice of H.264 QuickTime or WMV. These videos allow for easy playback on a computer, but LotusLive only hosts them for a month; you can’t build an archive in the cloud, as you can with some other services.
LotusLive encrypts meetings through 128-bit SSL, but makes some missteps when it comes to security. You’ll always have the same meeting number and URL assigned to your account, so regular collaborators can find you easily. But, because there are no passwords, anyone who knows that number can jump into any session. You can kick out unwanted participants, but a simple password option would make more sense.
Macworld’s buying advice
LotusLive Meeting could fit your business if you already use a conference calling service. But its design feels untested and is missing some features its competitors offer. You can do better.