Webcasting and Webconferencing

Thoughts about webcasts, and the like…

People often cite Microsoft Exchange as one of the pieces of the corporate puzzle that open-source has not yet provided a replacement for. Sure, we’ve got good email servers and clients, but there’s always talk of calendaring and scheduling (stuff I really don’t do, and am not familiar with.)

Another piece that might be missing (and again, I’m no expert in this area, so enlighten me if I’m ignorant) is webcasts. In the geek community we’ve got streaming audio, slides in HTML, IRC, etc. but these are geek technologies, and not fit for business-person consumption.

The requirements for webcasts usually cover Windows/IE, and on the Mac it’s… well, IE5 (in Classic!), Netscape 4? Safari? Or… In my little testing over the past few years I’ve had to resort to using old obscure browsers, making sure Java is all set with these old browsers, and other crazy hoop jumping.

Here’s a (possibly) crazy idea, build a webcasting application utilizing the Mozilla platform. This is one place I think a rich internet client is needed, and the added benefit of being a multi-platform client is a great plus. These webcasts usually involve someone speaking, sometimes via streaming audio, and sometimes you do a conference call. There’s some sort of slides being show, which requires the server to push the change of slides to the client. There’s also (usually) some sort of chat thingy in the browser as well, for questions. It really doesn’t seem like rocket surgery, but there’s enough little pieces to make it non-trivial.

But will people want to install a specialized app just to take part in a webcast? Well, as mentioned I spent more time screwing around installing plugins, Java, and old browsers, that my answer is “yes” I probably would install a specialized client. You wouldn’t believe how many demos I’ve been a part of where people had some weird issue with something not working, and that includes people using Windows/IE.

It seems like all of the companies doing these webcasts built their platforms at a time (years ago) where betting on Windows and IE was a safe thing do to, and if they had extra time they made it work in Netscape 4. Has there been any progress in the last few years?

From what I remember (and as I said, it’s been a while) WebEx seemed to work pretty well out of the ones I tested. I think they might be more open to other platforms besides Windows…

I was reminded of all of this because Scoble mentioned an MSDN webcast. Of course looking at the FAQ for Microsoft Webcasts we see that they support IE, and Netscape 4.x, and mention you might be able to use Netscape 7, but alas, only Windows is welcomed here.

This seems like it creeps into stuff that Jon Udell might talk about…

Anyone else have insight into this? I’m not expecting some open-source project to pop up out of nowhere to solve this, but I think the possibilities of a company doing it right, meaning working on multiple-platforms with a rich client, or at least working with modern-day browsers (again, on multiple-platforms) could happen. If such company did a demo, and it all just “Magically Worked” I’d be quite impressed…