VNC vs. WebEx: VNC wins!

I’m running a little activity at work tomorrow where I need to allow several remote people to show demos (mostly web-based and likely on Firefox) on a laptop hooked into a projector in a conference room full of people watching the demos. This sounds like a job made for WebEx, right? I hadn’t used it in a while and thought maybe it was a good idea.

Wrong. Bad idea.

After messing around with WebEx for two hours and getting absolutely nowhere (on a 1.8 ghz machine with 1GB RAM), I gave up. I tried starting WebEx in Firefox (it worked, but my colleague couldn’t join the meeting, Firefox stopped responding, and I had to kill the Firefox process), then tried starting WebEx in IE (where it insisted that install an ActiveX control — yuck — and froze my machine). It broke in lots of different ways, and I had to reboot my normally quite stable XP machine.

I decided to give the RealVNC Free Edition a try. Within about five minutes, a colleague across the Internet was remote controlling my laptop (through a couple of layers of NAT). Easy, easy, easy. The only downside is that the sharing is one-to-one, but that’s all I really needed in this case (since the projector will handle the one-to-many sharing).

It looks like WebEx just isn’t particularly Firefox-friendly ( James Governor suggests MS Live Meeting instead of WebEx if you’re using Firefox). If you search for Firefox in the WebEx Knowledge Base, though, you’ll find a page (Article ID WBX21942 — can’t figure out their URL scheme to link to it properly!) that says you just need to download the “Meeting Manager Installer for Netscape Navigator” and install the Firefox User Agent Switcher and tell Firefox to announce itself as Netscape 4.8. Maybe I’ll give that a try the next time I use WebEx — if I ever use it again.

16 thoughts on “VNC vs. WebEx: VNC wins!

  1. I am preaching to the choir here. A few years back I worked at a start-up software company. One of my jobs there was to implement a desktop-sharing/demonstration solution so that we could show off our software. Many there said that either Citix or WebEx was the way to go.

    I can tell you honestly that RealVNC (The ‘new’ open source Ultra-VNC is even nicer now! Especially for XP) beat them both hands down. While Citrix will give you all the bells and whistles, it comes with an extremely high price tag.

    There is another solution out there called GoToMyPC. Their pricing concept is ridiculous: you pay a monthly fee to access your remote desktop instead of a one-time fee. I’ve found that the VNC family costs nothing for you to get standard functionality and is just as fast (and faster in certain setups) than the commercial competitors.

  2. Harlin is right, Ultra-VNC is better! It has a lot of great features such as disabling the remote keyboard, mouse & monitor to prevent user’s input, a chat option, and the best of all I think, the Repeater. With this feature you can access a computer with no public IP (of course through a PC with a public IP within the same network of your target).

  3. Also, I forgot to mention, if you’re an administrator and you want to monitor what the users are doing, you can run the viewer as a Windows service and even hide the tray icon so they won’t notice that you’re connecting to their computer.

  4. I currently use RealVNC for some shadowing/conferencing on a PC. I have chosen Real because of its Java Based web browser as well as its ability to lock out the keyboard and mouse functions as well as dropping off the wallpaper to make things run smoother. However, I am interested in the chatting function of Ultra now. I’ll need to see if it allows for different users to log in as well as being accessible through a web browser.

    Let me know if anyone has any ideas on this.

  5. One of the biggest advantages I see for webex is that through the proxy principle (the access anywhere daemon tells a Webex server that he has gone online) you can connect to the target computer regardless of whether there is any firewall. We use it a lot to remote control customer computers. OTOH, webex does not work for controlling remote windows computers from a linux client. If we’d put in the proxy principle in VNC, this would be a real competitor.

  6. As far as I know the tray icon in RealVNC can no longer be disabled except by deep hacking.

  7. Not only is it often functionally inferior, it is also untrustworthy. Nobody knows what they’re doing with the data on their hub, but they’re certainly sucking up everybody’s data — including video!

  8. The hint to “Firefox User Agent Switcher and tell Firefox to announce itself as Netscape 4.8” helped me with my problems with Firefox and Webex, after i got the error message “You are no longer connected to the meeting. Automatically reconnecting…”
    I got this problem for IE8 too, where i could solve it by installing the “Meeting Center application for Internet Explorer in Windows” manually from the webex/support/downloads section.

    So thank you 🙂

  9. Here you go, this is my little project for running a VNC version of webex from your home server. At the moment I have only packaged the software for windows but it will be available for ubuntu and osx soon.

  10. RHUB has solved joining meetings via any browser that support either Flash or Javascript. You can attend their meetings in Linux using Firefox, on an iPhone or iPad using Safari, on Windows Mobile using Skyfire. For remote controlling, you can install their lightweight TurboMeeting client. Up to 10 “supporters” can control a PC at a time.

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