Technology Untangled: Meet face-to-face with these free video-chat apps

March 11, 2015

technology-bourMy primary Web browser is Mozilla Firefox. The interface runs smoothly and seems to be very good at providing regular maintenance and security updates as well as performance tweaks. Recently, a screen popped up advising of a new feature, Firefox Hello. It was promoted as the easiest way to connect for free over video. This article will look at Firefox Hello and compare it to the similar GoToMeeting.

I am quite familiar with Skype as it is probably the most popular video-calling service available. It works quite well, but it does involve all parties who want to communicate to be registered with their own Skype IDs. That is not necessarily convenient when you want to connect quickly with someone new who has not previously created a Skype account.

I was intrigued by the enticement from Firefox Hello that claimed you could open a video conversation with just one click and invite anyone to that video conversation with no account or sign-in required. As expected, this service is free.

Could it really be that simple? I logged onto https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/hello/ to find out. On that page, I clicked “Try Firefox Hello,” then “Start a Conversation.” A window showing your camera feed pops up with overlay buttons to invite someone via email. Clicking that launches an email invitation that already includes the URL link. All you do is type in the recipient’s email address and send. Your recipient then must copy and paste the link into their browser to initialize the video connection on their end. Now, that cut-and-paste requirement was not as simple as I thought it should be. The invitation should have included a hot link that would automatically launch the video chat room – a minor annoyance.

In any case, once the recipient pastes the link, the chat room opens with the Start a Conversation button. One more step requires the recipient to click and choose to share their audio and video feed before the camera and microphone turn on. This makes sense so you don’t catch someone unaware, as might happen if the feed started in automatically.

Firefox Hello works best, of course, with the Firefox browser, but you can also receive calls via the Chrome browser. Internet Explorer will not work. This answered my question as to why Firefox is offering the video chat feature for free. It is intended to lure more customers to use the Firefox browser. Hello seems best suited for use with laptop computers. I did have limited success trying it through the browser of some Android phones and tablets, though I do not think it works as smoothly as Skype for portable devices. This product is still in beta testing and, while I found it to have a few glitches, I do think it has potential.

I recalled another similar free product I tried awhile back, so I revisited it for comparison. GoToMeeting also offers a free video-chat feature. Overall, I feel it is a better application. GoToMeeting has been in the remote connection business for a long time, at first with screen sharing applications and next with video-chat services. The free video-chat version is a relatively new offering. They advertise it as a quick video-chat tool for up to three people.

GoToMeeting is simple to deploy. No signup or download is required. To use it, just go to https://free.gotomeeting.com and click “Start a Meeting.” Click the button to share your camera and mic, and you are ready to go. You are provided a URL link that you either email or copy to share with a recipient. The generated links have memorable three-word phrases (for example, butter-dog-montana) which makes it easy to remember if you want to use that same chat room again later. To make it even simpler, you can actually “claim” the room and save it as a reusable video-chat room. Your recipient simply goes to that same room on the Web and connects; you, in essence, re-invite them to join.

Several features make this my choice in comparison to Firefox Hello. First, the audio was noticeably better. Next, you can have up to three people involved on a chat, while Hello is limited to only two. Perhaps best, you have the ability to share your screen with others and to share documents. This sharing feature makes it more likely for GoToMeeting to become a useful business communications tool. Additionally, you can type short messages to chat with the other two parties along with communicating by voice and video.

GoToMeeting says it works with Firefox and Chrome browsers, but I tried it with Internet Explorer 11 and found it also worked after downloading a special plug-in. Why is this product free? The hope is that you will move up to the full-featured GoToMeeting subscription, which allows meetings with up to 25 people, session recording, full tech support and more.

The next time you need a quick face-to-face, try Firefox Hello or GoToMeeting Free. You can be communicating in less than a minute.•


Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.


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