Sunday, January 30, 2011

Remote meeting participants? We use Skype and VNC

We did experiment quite a bit with different ways of having our group meetings. At most of our meetings some of the group members are joining us from remote locations, and we want the remote members to be full meeting participants.

For a little while we only shared the sound with the remote participants, using skype. That worked rather well, but it brought the difficulty that the remote participants could not see the same screen that we were projecting on the wall in our meeting room. If we had only one remote participant, we could transmit a lo-fi image through video skype, but this was hardly better than no screen at all.

We then started trying different web-meeting software: a free trial of gotomeeting, and the free version of dimdim (when it was still available). Gotomeeting had the problem that it is not supporting Windows, Mac and Linux equally. Dimdim had better support for different operating systems, but had much worse sound quality and the video was sometimes completely black or delayed by as much as 10 seconds.  These "official" solutions did therefore not lead to better communication for us.

Our problem was solved when we realized that we could use skype for audio, and all share the same screen by using VNC. We installed a VNC server with (readonly) java client on one of our linux servers. During a meeting, the meeting facilitator is in control via a read-write VNC session while the other participants only watch. Audio connection is done via skype as before, delivering good quality audio through a special external speaker/microphone combination.

This made us very happy, without monthly subscription costs. I'd like to hear in the comments about other alternatives you have explored.

Update: David van Enckevort explains in a posting on his blog how to set up a VNC server like we did.