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A NetMeeting Eulogy

November 1, 2012

NetMeeting LogoAn old friend and colleague recently forwarded a tribute to Windows NetMeeting written by a  Melbourne-based blogger (I’m Tipping My Hat To You, by Tim Bookes). It warmed my heart on this cold November morning to see that something I worked on long ago left such a lasting impression on the author and many others. For those unfamiliar, NetMeeting was an audio/video and conferencing application included in many versions of Internet Explorer and Windows 95 (OSR2) through Windows XP. Development and marketing for NetMeeting stopped soon thereafter. With the announced end-of-support date for Windows XP, (April 2014) this technology will finally be laid to rest. Check out Tim Bookes’ well written eulogy for more background.

Early in my Microsoft career I was a technical evangelist together with the old friend that brought Bookes’ article to my attention. Our job was to help get users and developers excited about this new technology during the beta (pre-release) and first full release. The beta version was codenamed “Oprah” because it was audio-only and was destined for big things (at the time Oprah Winfrey had the biggest talk show on the planet.) My office was in the same hallway as much of the development team and the distinctive “handshake tone” as the NetMeeting app sought and established connections between users, could be heard ringing up and down the hallway day and night.

In those days (late-90’s) I felt as though I was involved in every step of the process from the initial NetMeeting feature outlines, to bringing the product to market. Later, as the Product Manager, I went on to develop the marketing, branding and launch plans for versions 2 and 3. NetMeeting was included in every shipping version of Windows, Internet Explorer and all of the major PC cameras available on the market, and quickly rose to become the most widely used VOIP (voice over IP) and video-conferencing application in the world. As the NetMeeting PM I established the target market, created tables of features and benefits, wrote data sheets, demo scripts and user guides. I also owned the content on our fledgling website. I ordered “Have You Net Met Yet?” NetMeeting logo swag like refrigerator magnets (great for erasing 3.5” diskettes when used as cozies) and bright yellow NetMeeting shoelaces (surprisingly, a big hit amongst employees and external enthusiasts). For one particular Las Vegas tradeshow I purchased a 15 by 32 foot vinyl banner. It spent years afterwards rolled up in my garage waiting for the day my roof might leak.

I also wrote up the user case studies and created the screen shots we provided to press. Here’s one example:

NetMeeting-multi-point conference. Launching the Whiteboard.

The main NetMeeting screen for a multi-point conference. That’s me in the bottom photo, with a colleague above (I want to say, Sandra?). The names of the conference participants were mostly amalgams created by mixing up the names of coworkers.

Today Skype is the number one video-conferencing application and NetMeeting has been mostly forgotten. This is because Microsoft made the strategic decision to halt its development and, as Tim Bookes notes, because it was a product before its time. In the days of dial-up connections, Internet speeds were not fast enough for most users. The newly introduced USB 1.0 cameras were themselves too slow and the technology used for video conferencing and application sharing was too complex (and too inflexible) for many third party developers. When the marketing and development for NetMeeting ended with the release of Windows XP the door was opened for Skype and other products to fill the space. In 2011 Microsoft purchased Skype for $8.5 billion – i.e., the cost of abandoning the market ten years earlier. But the experience I gained working on all aspects of NetMeeting marketing and communications in those early years was invaluable. As I moved on in Microsoft, teams grew in size and complexity and I began delegating many of these roles.  Windows Media Center was another opportunity for me to live through a product’s lifecycle from beta through three vital and exciting releases, as well as its abandonment and neglect as strategies changed.  Along the way I worked on more than a dozen other product launches, including several for Internet Explorer and Windows Live. But NetMeeting was special – and you always remember your first.

Here’s a 4 minute clip of a June 1999 demonstration of NetMeeting video conference. The connection was a bit shaky and moments before air I realized that the headset wouldn’t reach my head.  But it’s worth watching for the last 30 seconds….

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  1. Ode to Swag | marcommman

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