As the world’s knowledge workers continue to work from home due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, using a videoconferencing application is as common as checking your email or opening a spreadsheet. Since many decisions regarding technology tools for remote workers at the start of the pandemic were made based on urgency, ease of use, availability, and cost, many companies turned to free or inexpensive videoconferencing tools such as Zoom or Google Meet for their immediate needs, with some larger organizations ponying up for enterprise versions of those applications.
Now that a large majority of us are working from home with no immediate plans to return to the office full time, companies are exploring alternative videoconferencing platforms for a variety of reasons. These include looking for a lower-cost option, searching for something more secure, or supporting the altruistic and transparent nature of open-source software. In addition, videoconferencing vendors that offered their commercial platforms for free earlier in 2020 may end these freebies as we move into 2021.
Fortunately, there are many choices for companies looking to go beyond the mainstream commercial products. The demand for videoconferencing due to the pandemic has ramped up the development of many open-source projects, with end users and companies able to benefit from more robust offerings than may have been available in recent years. Many of these projects utilize WebRTC, the open-source, real-time communications framework developed and maintained by Google and others that supports audio, video, and data communications.
For this roundup, we are focusing on open-source tools and platforms that offer videoconferencing as a main feature. Some of these are free, and some of them have commercial upgrade options. With some, customers set up, host and maintain the software on-premises, while other platforms provide cloud-based hosting, and some offer both options.
Some of them are part of a larger collaboration offering, where videoconferencing is just one feature within the platform. Indeed, as we found with our dives into free screen-sharing apps and enterprise-friendly remote desktop software offerings, the lines can get blurry between tools meant for videoconferencing, web conferencing, text chat, VoIP, and other features such as screen sharing, file sharing, and whiteboarding.