Lots of video and sharing options makes this small business video conferencing solution worth considering, so long as you're not using any mobile clients.
Chances are that your small business will require collaboration and video conferencing software at one point or another. Modern video conferencing solutions let small business owners and employees meet with anyone at anytime to easily demonstrate new products and to collaborate on business opportunities -- while saving on travel expenses and avoiding traffic delays.
In this article we review video conferencing software from Nefsis, a company that offers both on-site and hosted video, audio and content sharing options for small business.
Nefsis Installation and Setup
For this review we looked specifically at the hosted version of Nefsis, which offers a free trial. The hosted service includes two components: the browser-based management interface for setup and scheduling, and the client-side application that actually runs the service and delivers the collaboration capability.
The browser interface lets people with administrator access set up and schedule conferences. Configuration options allow for a password setup as well as duration for a conference.
You can schedule conferences, configure passwords and set conference duration through the Nefsis admin panel.
(Click for larger image).
While you use a browser to access the Nefsis service, that doesn't mean it's installation-free. The administration interface requires no additional software installation, but to actually get the conference part going requires a bit of installation. In Firefox, as soon as you click the "join meeting" notification (either from an email invite or from the menu in the browser interface), you get a Firefox dialogue to install a new plugin.
Unfortunately Nefsis isn't using the more modern type of Firefox plugin, so when you first install Nefsis, you need to restart the browser. That's not always a good thing, as you might lose your browser history. The install experience on Microsoft IE does not require a browser restart, making it a somewhat simpler and cleaner install experience.
In case you don't want to (or for some reason can't) install the browser plug-in, you can opt for a client install (a basic .exe file that you click and install) that does the same job as the plugin.
Features and Performance
Once you're connected with the Nefsis client, the real work of collaboration can begin. The conference host sees all the participants as well as the capabilities of their systems (in terms of PC performance, bandwidth and camera). That's a useful feature that isn't always included on collaboration tool platforms. Knowing what systems capabilities other users have can be critical to troubleshooting performance issues.
The conference host also has the power to turn on other users' connected cameras and audio. This is also particularly useful as it means the host doesn't need to wait for other people to click a button, and he or she can truly moderate and control the video conferencing experience.
The video collaboration portion of Nefsis appears to be flawless, that is, it just works. During limited testing using both low-res VGA and HD cameras, we were able to connect and use Nefsis without issue. The video is fast and, on decent connections, lag is not an issue.
Speaking of lag, the Nefsis client (both for the conference host and other participants) clearly rates the bandwidth quality for the connected machine using a scale of 1 to 5. Additional performance views provide network tools and a bandwidth monitor. These features give an administrator visibility into the network environment to ensure a good experience.
Nefsis also includes excellent control settings for video quality. The admin can set the resolution anywhere from 160x120 all the way up to 1280 x 720 HD and adjust settings for frames per second (the more frames per second the smoother the video, and the higher the bandwidth demands) as well as sharpness. Don't be afraid of all the settings though. In out testing we found the default settings worked well, but it's always good to know that you have more control if you want it.
File Sharing with NefsisVideo conferencing
alone is great, but to get the full benefit of online collaboration, a small business is likely to want to share documents as well.
Appropriately enough, you'll find document sharing options under the Nefsis sharing tab. We opened a standard Microsoft Word doc, which opened and displayed across the connected conferencing computers. Unfortunately, the sharing feature isn't a collaborative editing feature inside of the actual Word doc itself. Instead, it has an "annotation" feature that lets you overlay words on top. If you're used to collaborative editing (Sharepoint or otherwise), this isn't an ideal feature.
The document sharing feature isnt s versatile as we'd like, but its annotation feature lets you overlay words on top.
(Click for larger image).
That said, Nefsis does have Desktop and Application sharing features, so you could just open up Word and share via the application or desktop rather than use the share document feature. It's not a major issue, but it is something to be aware of during usage.
Nefsis also offers an interesting take on desktop sharing with what it calls "Region" sharing. There are times when you don't want to share an entire desktop, and that's where Region comes into play. The Region sharing option lets you share just a specific area (or region) of your screen.
Other sharing options include text chat, though it's not directly integrated with the participant panel. You can't simply click the user's name as you can on other Web conferencing services like Cisco's WebEx. Rather it requires the admin to activate a chat with a user by clicking the chat button at the top of the client interface. Again, that's a minor thing and probably won't people who aren't used to WebEx.
Nefsis really shines when it comes to sharing other media; the system easily lets you share video and audio files across the video conference with excellent quality.
It's also important to remember that there are many different reasons to use video conferencing. Sometimes you might want to try and collaborate by sharing content files and other media. Then may be times when you just want to talk and simply use the video elements.
Nefsis lets the administrator customize the layout of the client screen to meet those different use cases. It offers layouts for video or share only, as well as layouts for webinars. One screen does not fit all, and Nefsis realizes and provides for those instances.
Is Nefsis Right for You?
Small business owners can choose from a number of companies and services when it comes to video conferencing solutions and, in most cases, Nefsis should be one of them.
Both Cisco's WebEx and Citrix GoToMeeting (and to some degree Skype) all offer competing services. One of the big differences between those services and Nefsis is that Nefsis currently only supports Windows PC. Nefsis does provide a workaround for Mac users that involves running Windows emulation on Mac, but it's not a native application.
That means if you've got Apple Mac OS X or mobile users (Windows Phone, Blackberry, Android or iPhone), Nefsis may not necessarily be the right solution for you. Collaboration only makes sense when you can connect to the users you need to collaborate with.
For Windows users without mobile needs, Nefsis offers a relatively easy setup and lots of control on the video side. While the document sharing feature isn't as collaborative as we like, the sharing and collaboration features can still benefit small businesses. The control and setup of conferencing though the administration interface is also complemented with reporting features about service usage.
Pricing, Sort Of
So how much will Nefsis cost you? Pricing is somewhat of a mystery. The basic two-person version of Nefsis is free, though the online service called, Nefisis Professional doesn't list standard pricing on the website. Instead it simply states, "Custom - Get Quote."
When Small Business Computing asked Nefsis about pricing, a spokesperson said that she was unable even to give a range. She noted that Nefsis pricing is, "
comparable to other solutions, comes with a free trial and interested companies can seek a quote based on usage, needs and users."
You can get a free trial of Nefsis, and decide if this is a video conferencing solution that fits your small business.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.
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