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Making the Switch to a Virtual Office Painless

pxIn theory, a virtual office based on cloud computing is a wonderful thing, with remote workers spread out across the globe collaborating on projects as if they were in the same building.

But in practice, it’s not that simple, as most small firms know. Communicating exclusively via the Web takes planning, and actually getting work done takes careful coordination. What’s more, online meeting software can be expensive, hard to use, loaded with confusing features and difficult to set up, especially for large teams.

Now, a new online collaboration tool is attempting to make working together on the Web much easier. The desktop-sharing and conferencing software, called join.me, is made by LogMeIn Inc., a small company in Woburn, Mass. It offers a free version with basic functionality. If you want a souped-up version that also includes international conference calling, it will cost you $30 per month.

Here are the details for the small business user:

What is it: For starters, join.me is a ridiculously simple app that runs straight from your browser -- no pesky software installation that’s required in competing tools such as GoToMeeting or WebEx. It allows you to share your screen with up to 250 users. The app also generates a conference call-in line and supports many forms of chat and screen sharing. 

What’s Free: A one-button startup at the join.me website generates an online meeting with a code that other participants can use to enter and begin chatting, for quick and dirty desktop collaboration. The app also generates a dial-in code for teleconferencing and offers full desktop sharing, simply by clicking the option in join.me’s control panel. The app also allows for multiple monitors and sports a useful pause function, in case you have to send an email or respond to a message mid-meeting.

What’s Not Free: The Pro version, at $30 per month, includes access to a meeting scheduler and calendar that will send email invites to participants. It also allows you to create a customized link and background for your meeting, lets you add multiple presenters to your account and provides an added layer of security called “meeting lock,” which lets you approve or lock out meeting participants, even if they have the access code. If you want to have international workers call in to the meeting, you’ll need the Pro version.

Small-Business Feature We Loved: Besides the basic desktop-sharing functions, join.me also sports iPhone, iPad and Android app versions, so your collaborators can be mobile. The apps work on and across the different mobile platforms, and, at first blush, these all work at least reasonably well.

Bottom Line: For simple online meetings that are easy to set up -- and free -- there is no reason not to use join.me. 

Considering making the switch to a virtual office? Tell us why in the comments section. 

Jonathan Blum is a freelance writer and the principal of Blumsday LLC, a Web-based content company specializing in technology news.
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