Computers and other hardware from Apple like to act the role of slam-dunk video tools. Most Macs come with built-in microphones and iSight cameras, plus the line is supported by easy-to-use video chat tools like iChat and FaceTime.
But as video-cool as Macs might be, less than 10 percent of the world's business computer users use them. So most business collaboration must be done in complex mixed-platform networks--and that often is trickier than it appears.
Cost-conscious small firms hold on to their beloved Apple computers longer these days, and those older units often have low-quality cameras, if they have them at all. Plus, Macs must play in the digital web sandbox with software that was initially made for PCs, so many features can be wonky and hard to use--all very un-Mac-like.
With that in mind, here is our real-world guide for turning your Mac into a video conferencing powerhouse.
Consider a New Camera
Yes, newer Macs come with powerful cameras and video functions, but you will be surprised at just how long in the tooth older Apple equipment can be. Many major peripheral makers, like Logitech, make Mac-compatible web cameras with impressive high-definition audio and video. But beware: It can be devilishly easy to get a camera that is not Mac-compatible. So triple-check that your unit is supported by your version of the Mac OS. And be sure you buy from someplace with a good return policy. Macs can be royally fussy.
Don't Be Afraid to Go Small with Mac-Based Collaboration Tools
Web heavies like Citrix Systems' GoToMeeting, Cisco's WebEx, Fuze Box's Fuze Meeting and startups like iVisit.com say they support Macs. But most of the tools we've tested just don't give Mac users the ease of use and white-glove Mac experience they typically demand. For that, the smart Mac money goes to conferencing tools from smaller firms. Service from ooVoo (ad-supported plans are free, pro packages start at $30 per month) runs from an easy-to-download Mac app that feels like Skype, but comes loaded with business-friendly features. It can import contacts from Outlook, offers high-resolution video support and has a nice video message service.
Beware of Mac Issues When Upgrading
To get a feel for the real-world issues of installing a new camera, we added the Eyeball 2.0 ($79.99 list, but available online for $35 to $40) from Blue Microphones to an aging Mac PowerBook G4. The Eyeball is compact and attractive, and has a fabulous microphone and HD video quality. It was simple to plug in and flexible enough to allow us to point the camera where we wanted to, which most Mac cameras can't do. But even this ease of use wasn't enough for one of our testers, who was convinced the camera wasn't working because it had no power button, green light or traditional Mac-style desktop icon. New cameras often violate the basic logic inherent to Apple equipment.