8x8 sent me a trial account of 8x8 Virtual Office Pro to review. What is Virtual Office Pro? Think of it as your web-based communications portal handling phone calls (auto-attendant, VoIP), internet fax, hosted conferencing and hosted application sharing. The only missing piece from the equation is email, however it does support direct integration with Exchange Server by leveraging Outlook Anywhere to pull in your Outlook Contacts. You can also pull your corporate directory into the online communications portal.
The service gives you one direct inward dial number (DID) for inbound calls and an additional DID for the powerful hosted conferencing service which supports both audio and video conferencing as well as your typical conferencing features (chat, moderator, mute, etc.). It leverages Java and Flash for the user interface, collaboration, and the VoIP and video conferencing features.
Creating an Online Meeting
I really liked how I was able to drag-and-drop contacts into my online meeting. Makes it very easy to create meetings. You can also manually type email addresses and they'll receive the invite. I like the auto-complete within the fields which matches with your contacts. You have several options available when creating an online meeting. You can for instance request a response (RSVP) for your scheduled meeting. Other options include choosing the start/end date/time, the time zone, as well as enable/disable: chat, require moderator, mute all participants, audio recording, video, presentation sharing, Remote Desktop Control, and more as seen here:
Joining the Meeting
Once you receive the email invite, you can click the link and join the meeting from your PC. For audio you have the choice of using VoIP from your PC or by dialing into the conference and entering the meeting ID - information provided by the invite email.
VoIP / Video Quality
The voice quality was very good. Even though I've tested other Adobe Flash VoIP products, still pretty amazing to be talking over a browser using Flash components. The latency was minimal, so no complaints there. I tested two-way video in a meeting and it performed very well. You can do more than a two-way video conference call of course. There is no real limit to the number of video participants. The video participants will scroll to the right in the filmstrip as you continue to add more. Here's a screenshot of 8x8 doing a video conference demo with 3 participants:
As moderator when you mute their audio it mutes/turns off their web video as well. Meeting participants can make a particular participant's video larger or maximize a particular participant. Overall, the video conferencing capabilities were pretty good.
Once in the meeting you can chat with other participants. It worked as expected and even includes emoticons. For presentation sharing, it supports two modes of desktop sharing. You can choose Desktop Sharing which allows you to draw a box around an area of your PC's screen that you want to share. You can also move or resize this box at any time. Being able to share a specific section of your screen is a nice feature. Alternatively, you can choose Window Sharing to pick a specific Window application to share. The moderator can also grant application sharing permission to any of the participants so they can share their PC's screen.
The moderator can place participants into a private group and this is announced to them that they've been placed into a private group. This is useful for instance in sales calls when a sales person may need to get his manager's approval for a proposed reduction in price.
One nice feature is that you can have open-ended meetings with no end date. So if you end a meeting, you can quickly restart the meeting with all the various options already pre-configured without having to recreate it. This also holds true for scheduled meetings which do have an end date but hasn't expired yet. So if for whatever reason your PC or browser crashes, you can rejoin the meeting. As long as the option 'Require Moderator' is unchecked, all the other participants can continue to hold the meeting until you rejoin.
I liked the usability of the web interface a lot, especially the way windows would pop into the background (with thumbnail previews) when you view another option or setting. Then you simply click the red X icon and the window you were working on pops back to the foreground. Mind you, this is all within a single browser window/tab! Check out this example where I have 3 windows cascaded into the background:
It's important to mention that Virtual Office Pro supports two modes of recording - prompted or unprompted option. The unprompted option basically records all meetings and prompted requires user action to initiate a recording.
From your browser you can send faxes pretty easily.
One minor complaint about the Internet faxing feature is that you can only attach 1 file to the fax. So for example if you have a Word document and a PDF, you'll have to convert them into a single file for sending. Most faxing is a single document so this issue will only trip up users occasionally.
Features / Specs
- Web dashboard: Make calls, schedule meetings, send faxes, and more.
- Virtual Office Mobile--Extend your 8x8 Virtual Office Pro calling plan to your iPhone.
- Online meetings--Hold unlimited web, audio, and video conferences; instantly sharing content for training, demos, and sales presentations.
- Internet faxing--Send and receive unlimited faxes online. Attach your documents and click send. You can also add on more fax numbers (including toll-free) to make it even easier for people to send you faxes.
- Call recording--Record, save, and review your telephone calls.
- 1GB Storage--Record up to 35 hours of your online meetings or phone calls.
- Hosted PBX, Auto Attendant, Extension Dialing
- Music on Hold, Messaging on Hold
- Ring Groups
- Directory Assistance Listing
- Online Billing
- Simple Online Administration
- Local Number Porting
- Unlimited Calling
- Direct Phone Number
- Personalized Voicemail
- Voicemail to Email
- Conference Bridge
- Caller ID with Name
- Call Waiting
- Caller ID Blocking
- Call Transfers
- Call Park
- 3-Way Calling
- Internet Faxing
- Online Meetings
- Call Recording
- iPhone Integration
- Salesforce Integration
- Outlook Integration
- Advanced Call Forwarding
- Do Not Disturb (DND)
- Internal/External Ring Tones
- Stutter Tone Notification
• Who is the target user of this product? Entrepreneurs? Home-based businesses?
All of the above PLUS small to medium sized businesses with anywhere from a few to several hundred extensions. One of our government accounts with 150+ extensions is currently engaged in a trial of VO Pro for 10 users.
• Since it's using a browser-based phone app, do some users worry about their browser crashing or VoIP quality suffering? How do you allay their fears before they choose your product? I guess offering the trial helps.
We actually think a browser based solution is less likely to crash than an executable. Executables are often sensitive to the exact version of the operating system etc. and 8x8 would have to maintain and test this constantly. By using a commercial browser we rely on the browser provider to do this. We support multiple browsers such as Safari, I.E. and Firefox. Usually a user can find one of these that works well and doesn't crash. The trial definitely helps.
• You may not know the answer to this one: Do the users of your product tend to be more technical or less-technical - and why? ( I tend to think more technical since they can use their favorite PC VoIP recording app, favorite PC USB-based or Bluetooth headset with the VoIP.)
8x8 has not collected data on the technical competence of its subscribers, but in general our subscribers have vastly differing technical knowledge, from virtually none at all to full computer science PhDs. The use of the VO Pro functions by our subscribers is more based on their communication needs than their technical competence. For example, VO Pro is popular with people that send and receive a lot of faxes, which is really an old technology not one used by the most savvy technical users.
• Why do users choose your 100% web-based offering for their communications?
Incredibly simple to use and most important of all, no downloads and installation. IT depts. love this as they don't have a new application to support. The fact you can use the service anywhere on any machine is also a good selling point.
• Open ended question - explain some of the technical aspects of this solution - how you minimize latency, the back-end architecture advantages, termination cost savings, etc.
We don't really minimize latency, but we find that the vast majority of internet connections are extremely good these days with regard to latency, packet loss and jitter. The only exception would be wireless 3G which can vary depending on the exact location. The advantage with our architecture is that as we find bugs or release new features, these are added to the users accounts without interruption and automatically. This means users never have to worry about upgrading or maintaining their service as there is no application on their PC/Mac. In addition our service is designed from the ground up to be fully scalable and completely redundant with no single point of failure. This ensures very good uptime and availability, currently on the order of 99.99% and working towards 99.999%.
8x8 offers three pricing plans:
- Unlimited Extension Pro--Get unlimited outbound and inbound calls to the US, Canada, and 8 other countries.
$49.99/month (have to call for this pricing else it's $64.99)
- Metered Extension Pro--Cost-effective choice for businesses or specific employees who make very few outbound calls
- Global Extension Pro--Perfect for businesses or even specific employees who do a lot of international calling to over 40 international destinations
You might make the comparison to RingCentral, a popular SMB communications tool, however, this solution has additional features including VoIP integration and hosted collaboration meetings. Virtual Office Pro is a pretty comprehensive communications tool sporting Internet faxing, call recording, and online meeting services. It was very easy to use earning high usability marks. In my testing it performed flawlessly and I would not hesitate to recommend this product to any SMB looking to consolidate their communications offerings with one solid and reliable provider.