I always thought ‘Hangouts’ (the brand) was needlessly cool given the ambition Google had for it. ‘Hanging out’ conjures up images of purposless socialising (with friends, drinking cans of beer all afternoon in your parents’ house, probably with your baseball cap on back to front); whereas business videoconferencing is the polar opposite: PURPOSEFUL conversation, very little beer consumption and one eye on the clock. The ‘Hangout’ brand seemed to actively rule out business use on purpose.
But then, brands schmands. This is the age of BYOD and the consumerisation of IT. Maybe an invitation to hangout in the boardroom is all part of the drift.
We’ll find out soonish because Google and Asus (and HP and Dell following) have announced ‘Chromebox for meetings’ (now there’s a prosaic brand name). It’s Google’s Chrome OS in a small box but driving a big screen and high-res camera. As such it can do the conference room bit that Hangouts has yet to cover.
Hangouts, of course, is Google’s own cloud-based, browser-driven video system, which allows multiple users to ‘hang-out’ together on a video call.
Chromebox for meetings is an ASUS Chromebox along with the camera, remote controller and conference accessories. Those items are priced at US$999. The screen is chosen and paid for separately (its size somewhat contingent on the size of the room it’s to be used in of course).
Chromebox for meetings is available in the US first (as of today) with Australia, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, Spain and the UK following on fast.
So what’s so great about it? All the commodity items and software to build a cheap conference room can be thrown together already, based on Skype and a spare PC, for instance.
But of course, as everyone knows… they never work. Not every time.
Oh yes, I know I’ve just exaggerated and yes, I know they’ve improved a lot over the years. But it’s nevertheless a truth universally acknowledged: that videoconferencing systems are too often fiddly and the more important the conferencing event, the more likely the thing is to go down or have difficulty getting up in the first place.
What Google has concentrated on here is making the conferencing room bit as slick and easy to use as it should be. The Chromebox CPU means the thing is up and ready to go in a few seconds. It uses the hangouts invite system, so no passcodes and PINS and other anxiety-enhancing hurdles are put in front of participants. And there’s integration with Google’s Calendar, making invitiing others or adding new conference rooms easy (it claims).
It will also let in people on Skype and other end-systems and a single conference can go up to 15 (though that sounds like a nightmare). Hangouts itself has a maximum of 10 participants.
So it does appear to make sense. Anyone with a Gmail account can get onto hangouts on their browser (or Chromebook) and companies (especially small ones) can set up conference rooms for around $1000 - many times less than conventional rooms.
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