Macromedia Breeze 5 review

When we first looked at Breeze it was still little-known, despite having reached version 4. Since then, the training and meeting tool has gained a dedicated following, with the likes of Intel, Epson, Sony and the FBI on its books. The idea is to take advantage of global broadband to save your remote workers the chore of meeting in a single central location. Instead, they attend from home or office using a webcam, microphone and mouse. A PowerPoint plug-in lets presenters export slides for broadcast and, in this latest release, Macromedia has teamed up with Premiere Global Services to add VoIP to the mix.

It comprises five parts: the underlying Breeze Communication Server, which can be hosted remotely, and the presenter, meeting manager, training and event-registration modules. This sounds complex, but the Help system is nothing short of excellent, and should have even inexperienced users up and running in less than half an hour. Indeed, we were hosting a meeting after just 10 minutes.

We spent most of the time running the busy admin screens on a 1,280 x 1,024 resolution screen, and they really benefited from having space to breathe. However, shrinking things to a more regular 1,024 x 768 didn’t cause any problems – for either presenters or remote attendees – as the Flash-based interface gracefully rescales. We were using a mixture of Firefox on a PC and Safari on a Mac, both with Flash 7 installed, and although you’re advised to add the Breeze URLs to your white list, we had no problems running it with our pop-up blocker at its default settings.

Problems are handled in an equally dignified manner. We tested the remotely hosted service and experienced some network troubles, which the Breeze presenter and guest modules both diagnosed and pointed out. They then went on to fix themselves, directing us to a troubleshooting page, full of advice written in plain English.

Presentations themselves are put together in PowerPoint, with extensions to the default menus giving you access to narration recording and pre-determined quiz layouts, to supplement your regular slides. When played back in a browser, the Breeze interface works very much like a full-screen video player, and will be familiar to anyone who has used Windows Media Player. Each slide can have associated notes, which provides a useful means of giving participants the option of learning more, while not force-feeding them supplementary information by default.

The training module hooks into any slides that form part of a curriculum, tracking user data, monitoring who has viewed a particular presentation, and recording how they scored on quiz and training tasks, allowing you to keep tabs on your staff members’ progress. These reports can be exported as CSV files for import into Excel.

As an administrator, you’d most likely handle all staff enrolment yourself, but if you’re opening up your presentations to external third parties, you’ll appreciate the way the event manager allows you to customise most elements of its look and feel. Menus can be rewritten, and colours and logos chosen to match your corporate style, with the finished product looking like an in-house application.

The same customisation features are available in meeting rooms, which can be reorganised by the presenter, with all changes immediately reflected on other participants’ screens. Each room is comprised of a series of ‘pods’, which contain shared whiteboards, private, moderated or public chat, webcam feeds and Desktop sharing. This latter feature is particularly impressive, as it allows you to monitor a mixture or Windows and Mac-based applications from each OS. Indeed, participants can even take control of each others’ computers, subject to gaining permission from each other, so they can properly demonstrate how something should work, rather than just describing a series of actions. Similarly, shared folders allow remote participants to share documents without having to send them by email.

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