Free tools for teleconferencing with a 'virtual presence'

As business travel costs have gone up, there are now free choices that do more than mere instant messaging or video chatting

The Ekiga open source VoIP and videoconferencing client

The Ekiga open source VoIP and videoconferencing client

Upon running the Access Grid Venue Client, you will join a default Lobby, where you will find other users and see their video feeds. Businesses may want to set up their own Venue Server, which is included with the installation software. This will allow them to run an Access Grid server on their own network and configure Venues for their individual projects.

3-D graphics virtual world teleconferencing: OpenSim

This open-source version of the Second Life server can be integrated with corporate back-end systems. The developers of the project have designed the OpenSim code with a modular design to make this as easy as possible.

"I won't pretend that it isn't early days for OpenSim. The code is considered to be in an alpha state," says Justin Clark-Casey, a core developer of OpenSim. "However, already some projects, such as the IBM 3D Datacenter , are using it successfully in customer engagements

"I think the idea of presence is very interesting," says Clark-Casey. "Actually being in a 3-D environment as opposed to swapping e-mail messages or chatting gives one a much greater sense of participation in something. The brain is seeing and interacting with colleagues in a way which is much closer to real life, even more so than seeing someone's face on a webcam."

"In fact, I feel that collaborating with colleagues in actually producing something, as opposed to going to meetings, is going to be one of the major uses of virtual worlds," Clark-Casey says. "It's pretty primitive at the moment, but the technology will get better over time."

Austin Tate, a professor at the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, says "OpenSim, I believe will have promise for future uses for collaboration. Organizations will have to consider how this will relate to their public-facing virtual worlds presence." The school hosts the Vue - Virtual University of Edinburgh "Virtual University of Edinburgh" project , which has been focused lately on using Second Life for teleconferencing.

The school's own mixed-reality collaboration spaces can be completely run within OpenSim, demonstrating the current level of maturity of the software.

The OpenSim software comes in two versions: stand-alone and grid. Stand-alone packages everything into a single program and is good for running small-scale worlds. It can handle about 10 to 15 user avatars. If more heavyweight use is required for more users, grid is better -- it splits up various features into multiple programs.

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