Monday, December 22, 2008

Google Video Chat - a status report - Grade B-

I've been updating my initial post on Google Video Chat, but I think I've enough experience now to offer a status report. I've been testing XP to XP, and XP to OS X connections using Firefox.

  1. It takes a lot of CPU capacity. Practically speaking I think you want a dual core machine. It takes a lot of CPU capacity on OS X machines. On XP, compared to other video solutions, it's relatively efficient. It's Intel only of course, so G5 need not apply.
  2. The XP connections are pretty stable. If there's a nasty firewall involved, especially a nasty firewall with lousy bandwidth (some hotels for example) things get choppy and sound lags. If the connections are decent the results are quite good.
  3. OS X to XP connections are unstable. They work within a LAN, and they may work point-to-point with reasonably good connections, but when you add firewalls and VPN into the mix it falls apart.
  4. Google's Chat Help Forum is pretty worthless and so is their FAQ. I can't find any significant documentation.
  5. The workflow for establishing a "trust relationship" so that chat is possible is awkward and cryptic.
  6. The Chat contacts list UI is a mess, don't bother with it. Things work best if you type the gmail address of the person you wish to contact. Searching for a name then reviewing the menu of options isn't too bad.
  7. The Gmail integration is awkward.
  8. Google's notification / availability status workflow is a mess.
  9. Be sure to use the Settings menu of Gmail -> Chat Settings -> test connection.

I'd grade Google's Video Chat effort as C+. That sounds bad, but the rest of the class is B- to F, and the B-kids are trending downwards and might drop out of school.

I'll update the grades in a month or so.

Update 1/6/09: I bumped the grade in the post title to B-. We've been doing more corporate testing and have found:

  1. The voice quality when used with our Logitech Vision Pro (OS X, but we use them on XP machines because they don't require drivers and don't burden the CPU to do light correction and focusing) webcams is superb.
  2. Even on our creaky Dell laptops and feeble VPN network connections we can run both a point-to-point video conference and a LiveMeeting 2003 screen sharing session at the same time. Video degrades gracefully and audio remains excellent. This is actually pretty amazing, if you try to use LiveMeeting's native low quality video alongside LiveMeeting screensharing the video simply dies.
All the other problems persist, but the fundamental technology on XP is truly amazing.

Now if they can fix their OS X problems and come up with a $#!Now if they can fix their OS X problems and come up with a $#!$&^ notification solution ...
amp;^ notification solution ...

Update 2/24/09: Grade A-: The OS X client now seems comparable to the Windows client. Both drop sessions every hour or so. The quality can be astounding. Usability is astoundingly bad however. Still, beats Skype and iChat easily.

Update 10/29/09: We had too many connection drops for this to be really feasible for use at work. We're retrying with 'nice to have' non-critical video only connections. We assume this is more issues with our network than with GVC. I have discovered a way to separate the chat from the image; if you have Google Talk installed (XP only) you have an extra chat window, so that can be managed separately from the video-associated chat box.

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