We already know how important web conferencing is to today’s mobile workforce. Two of the best and most popular web conferencing services on the market today are Cisco’s WebEx and Microsoft’s Skype for Business products. Both are cloud-based software products that bring the power of remote conferencing to businesses of all sizes and types. Millions of people all over the globe use both products to stay connected.
This article looks at WebEx vs. Skype including the features and benefits that may make one or the other best for your business. If you’re trying to decide which service to use, this article will help.
The History: WebEx vs. Skype
Both WebEx and Skype were created as digital disrupters seeking to fulfill the promise of the internet as a global communications tool. The roots of WebEx date back to 1996, and a company called ActiveTouch. An Indian programmer and a Chinese entrepreneur got together and created the video conferencing software, which was later renamed WebEx in 1998. One year later the firm relaunched their original on-premise software as a SaaS product. It was, in fact, one of the first SaaS applications.
Fast forward to 2007 when the Internet really got rolling, and the purchase of WebEx by Cisco for a cool $3.2 billion. Today, the Cisco WebEx site says the platform holds 26.5 million meetings per month.
Skype was released in 2003 by Swedish and Danish developers. In 2005, eBay purchased Skype for $2.6 billion. Four years later, an acquisition occurred headed by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. At that time the market value of the platform was around $2.92 billion. But by May 2011, when Microsoft bought it, Skype was worth $8.5 billion. Today, there are more than 300 million active Skype users each month. The Skype mobile app has been downloaded more than one billion times. TechCrunch says that equates to more than two trillion minutes used.
Side-by-Side Comparison WebEx v. Skype
“As people increasingly embrace video as the de facto method of communicating, ease of access to the call or meeting is crucial. Most attendees are usually online, but there’ll always be some who are out and about – and who need to join remotely by either dialing in or a dial-out option.”
James Porter, Sei mani
Finances Online has a nice side-by-side comparison of the available features in WebEx vs. Skype. In it, they list the overall performance uptime of Cisco WebEx as 8.9 and Microsoft Skype at 9.0. That places both companies in a neck and neck performance race. Skype edges out WebEx in user satisfaction, though, at 98% to 96%.
Cost-wise, Skype has a “freemium” payment model; the basic service is still free. Businesses typically use Skype as part of their Office 365 subscription and the two services are increasingly integrated – more on that in a moment. At this time Cisco does not have a free option for individual users.
Both services offer some similar features, specifically:
> Web and video conferencing for 200 people or more (Skype offers the most at up to 300).
> Secure unlimited meetings under the monthly SaaS fee.
> Screen sharing.
> File sharing.
> Chat and brainstorming tools like whiteboarding.
> The ability to record meetings.
> Live support.
> Administrative controls.
But that may be where the similarities end. One big difference between the two platforms is that WebEx does not have a feature-driven instant-messaging framework like Skype does. With the addition of WebEx Spark, Cisco sought to stay competitive with Skype but adding IM and file storage. Traditionally, WebEx has been the platform for just pre-planned calls or events. An article in sei mani points out that:
The linking of WebEx and Spark does not provide a feature- rich messaging and presence environment and in the same way that an Android mobile can call an iPhone – Cisco’s interoperability play means every endpoint will connect with any other standards-based endpoint from any other vendor, hard or soft.
TechTarget reminds readers that comparing WebEx vs. Skype is not apples-to-apples, “The biggest differentiator is the breadth of the applications.” TechTarget suggests that Skype (see their comparison chart here) has many more features than WebEx, including:
1. The ability to toggle between full window and a compact screen in admin view.
2. Add participants at any time to a video session in progress.
3. Interoperability with other Microsoft products – including the ability to make calls from Word.
4. The ability to switch devices during a conference session.
5. Telephonic features like call forwarding, holding, and muting.
6. Manage simultaneous IM conversations.
7. IM history automatically archived.
8. Syncs with Outlook calendar.
9. The ability to hand your desktop to other participants so they can make changes to documents.
10. Permission-based file sharing.
11. Handles up to 300 people in meetings and has a broadcasting/webinar function that handles up to 10,000 participants.
In October 2017, Microsoft released a new version of Skype that gave the platform a more youthful feel. Whether this is appropriate for business remains to be seen; TechCrunch suggests, “It’s the kind of feature that makes Skype seem like it’s aiming for a more youthful demographic, rather than one that serves its professional use cases.”
The new Skype seems to be distancing itself from the slightly-more-stodgy WebEx; there are now personalization features that let users organize contacts in a number of ways in a more flexible dashboard interface. There’s a media gallery tied to each IM chat, which makes it a lot simpler to sort through conversations. Unlike WebEx, Skype allows for add-ins like Expedia or StubHub. Other IM platforms such as Slack could benefit from Microsoft’s ideas in this area.
It should be noted, too, that Skype for Business is about one-half as expensive as WebEx. Dial-out calling is included in the price, plus users can now search for any global user just like a PTSN landline call.
Pros and Cons WebEx vs. Skype
PC Magazine reviewed the two competitors WebEx vs. Skype. They found similarities and differences, strengths and weaknesses.
Their look at WebEx revealed an easy to use service that they call “not inexpensive.” In fact, it’s about double the price of Skype. However, all the paid plans include up to eight simultaneous video conference lines, screen sharing, the ability to record meetings, free mobile apps, and more.
“Cisco WebEx Meeting Center’s user interface (UI) has a modern look compared to other services.”
WebEx meeting hosts can share their files or desktop, and control attendees from a dashboard. There’s a virtual whiteboard for sketching ideas. Cisco WebEx does not offer phone conferencing. However, the service is compatible with multiple phone conferencing providers. It has all the features necessary for web conferencing. The service has a callme feature that calls to invite you to a webinar. However, it’s a pricey option with a subscription and a per-minute rate.
“If your business is interested in this kind of group collaboration, then you’ll want to skip Cisco WebEx Meeting Center and just get a Cisco spark meetings account.”
PC Magazine suggests that Skype for Business “hits that sweet spot for small businesses that need more than the consumer Skype.” They suggest that the service has grown up since Microsoft has taken it over. Instead of a piecemeal series of application integration, Skype is the communications hub within the Microsoft office function.
One of the biggest pros of Skype for Business is that it is becoming more and more integrated with Office 365 tools. Businesses can use SharePoint for file storage, for example, and set up Skype calls straight from that portal. Or, integrate Skype meetings easily right into the Outlook calendar.
There is a “meet now” feature that works well for impromptu communications as well as the traditional web-based video conferencing that most of us have used. It’s easy to run a side conversation alongside your Outlook email and calendar.
Skype for Business generally makes it easy to complete a conference call. It’s a click and invite process via the Microsoft Surface Hub – just tap the phone icon. There are four views to choose from as well, that really puts the meeting organizer in the driver’s seat.
Which is Better for Your Business: WebEx vs. Skype
The online message boards and feature comparison links show a pretty close feature-rich experience between both WebEx vs. Skype. The best way to approach the decision-making process is to lay out the features and benefits you’re searching for in a web-based video conference service. Are you already using other Microsoft products, like Office 365? Could WebEx be a better option if you need a more robust VoIP service? The truth is that both of these services are excellent.
To learn more about the differences between WebEx and Skype for Business, contact us today.