In 2020, our video conferencing technology works well. But, do you remember NetMeeting and early attempts to video call and collaborate?
One side effect of the current pandemic is the broad adoption of video conferencing or video telephony, whatever you want to call it. I am sure all of us have done some sort of online social gathering with friends and family over the past few weeks. Zoom has been immensely popular and works great. We are also using Skype and FaceTime regularly. On the business side is a lot of Webex.
When I remember NetMeeting in the mid 1990’s, five words come to mind: “Can you hear me now?” My friend Walt and I used to try NetMeeting calls across Calgary. Most failed and it was often faster just to drive to his house. Not ready for prime time.
NetMeeting was the first attempt at a widely distributed video conferencing application. You could find it bundled by Microsoft in Windows 95 through XP. When it worked, it was great. You could make video calls and conferences, share desktops and collaborate.
Sadly, we probably spent more time getting NetMeeting to work than we actually spent using it!
But when it did work, it wasn’t bad. Here’s a demonstration of NetMeeting actually working in 1999.
Remember NetMeeting – Ahead of Its Time
Sadly, NetMeeting was ahead of its time. There were some common problems you would discover. Your first challenge was bandwidth. Dial-up was just too slow, especially for audio. Home video cameras of the day were too slow. PC audio lacked standards and it took too much effort to get your mike and speakers working with these kind of applications. As for sharing your applications, the API was far to complex.
Microsoft had the same kind of challenges with gaming, using its Direct Play and Direct Sound interfaces.
One of the great benefits of NetMeeting was that most of us began to recognize the importance of adopting standards. NetMeeting used H.323 for video conferencing and G.711 for audio coding and T.120 for sharing and file transfer. These ITU standards, and many others, are widely used today.