Macromedia is making a major bid to increase its presence in the Web conferencing market, hoping to leverage the ubiquity of its Flash media player.

The company is expanding its Breeze online presentation software into a full Web conferencing product in a move which competes with existing vendors WebEx Communications, Microsoft and Cisco Systems.

Breeze has been offered until now primarily as a tool for creating presentations that users can view online, not for live conferences. A new release scheduled for March will change that and add features such as white-boarding, polling and application sharing, said Leesa Lee, senior product manager at Macromedia.

Macromedia hopes its ubiquitous Flash player will help; over 98 per cent of Internet users already have Flash installed, removing the need for an additional download to use the Breeze Web conferencing product. This sets it apart from competitors, Macromedia said.

Business expansion

Moving into the Web conferencing arena is a departure from Macromedia's traditional software business, said Paul Ritter, program manager for collaboration research at The Yankee Group in Boston.

"Entering the Web conferencing marketplace is not a guaranteed slam dunk. They will have to do significant marketing and advertising to let the world know that they are in this space," Ritter said. "However, I do believe they have a chance to compete because of some of the features and functionalities of Breeze that are different."

Macromedia is promoting the software's ability to archive presentations for on-demand playback, as well as a searchable library that will provide easy access to existing content, custom online meeting room layouts and an extensible architecture that will allow users to make Breeze part of their own infrastructure, such as corporate portals.

The Web conferencing space is dominated by a couple of large players, with WebEx at the fore and dozens more smaller players. The global market reached about $480 million in revenue in 2003 and is expected to grow to about $700 million in 2004, according to Yankee Group estimates, Ritter said.

US launch-pad, global plans

Macromedia plans to offer Breeze conferencing both as a hosted service and a software product that business users can install and run themselves. The hosted service will cost $84 per concurrent seat per month, and a perpetual license for the software starts at $22,500 including 25 concurrent seats, Lee said.

North America currently is the most important market for Breeze and the product is available in English only. However, Macromedia will sell it to interested international customers, Lee said. "We're just starting to get noticed and obviously we have a long way to go," she said.