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9/20/2010
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Fritz Nelson
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Fuze Takes Meetings To iPad

There are several iPad apps that bring the device into business meetings, but Fuze lets the iPad serve as meeting host.

One note: from the iPad you can perform normal app functions, like pinch and zoom; these iPad host's actions are seen immediately by all participants.

There are two forms of instant communication within a meeting. First, there's chat. You can send chat messages to an entire meeting, or individual participants. This is a good way to alert people to something during a meeting. But you can also use Instant Messaging straight from the app. In fact, it can make use of Yahoo, Google, Microsoft (OCS and MSN), ICQ and AIM apps, directly from within Fuze.

There are a few ways to invite participants to a meeting. First, of course, you can schedule a meeting and send out invites via e-mail, directly from the app. Or you can invite participants to join a meeting immediately, using e-mail, instant messaging (from which it's a single click to join the meeting), or the app can dial the participant in directly (it actually calls your contact's phone). When I invited participants on Outlook, the invite showed up not only in their e-mail, but populated their Outlook calendar too. There is an Outlook plug-in for this, Fuze told me, so perhaps these were actually populating iCal on the Mac, which is integrated with the mail client tied to my Exchange Server. Once in, the meeting host can allow co-presenters, including giving over meeting control, letting others annotate and so on. Icons show how each participant is connected.

Cisco's WebEx, an obvious competitor, also runs on the iPad, but only in meeting "receiver" mode; Fuze Meeting lets the iPad start, host and control the meeting. Users can do the same from other platforms; I tried this with the BlackBerry Torch and it worked, albeit on a size-challenged device and with a sliver of the features. Since my BlackBerry is tied into my Outlook e-mail and calendar, meetings populated those applications automatically, with dial in instructions and a link to join the meeting via any browser. However, while I was able to start and control the meeting from the Torch, I couldn't perform other operations, like giving meeting control to other participants or even sharing the content I'd uploaded into the meeting. I couldn't view some of the shared content (movies, photos, other documents) from other platforms either. Fuze did not have an answer about these challenges.

iPad users can purchase meetings by the day or month ($9.99 or $29.99) directly from within the app. The overall Fuze Pro package runs $69 per month (per user), or $662 annually, with normal discounts for large volumes. This comes with unlimited storage. For more pricing options, go here. You can try out the app with two attendees for free until October 15. By way of just general (inexact) comparison, Cisco's WebEx Meeting Center list price (at least right here) is $49 per month per host for 25 participants. This is equivalent, it seems, with the Fuze Plus package, which supports up to 45 participants (but again, does not provide video).

I did not Fuze this with lots of participants, but the company says it will support anywhere from 15 - 55 users, based on the package you've bought. The company also said that it is expanding its Pro package to support 100 users, and also introducing Webinar capability as well. Finally, you can record a meeting if you use the Pro or Plus package options, and recording from the iPad will be available in a later release.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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