Google makes Hangouts more enterprise friendly

Google is looking to make your work day a bit more social and is taking its Google Hangouts into the business arena.

The company is trying to make it easier for enterprises to use Hangouts for face-to-face, if not in-person, meetings, according to Clay Bavor, vice president of product management for Google Apps.

The Hangouts feature, which was first introduced as part of Google+, comes to the enterprise as part of a slew of new features for Google Apps for Business customers.

Starting today, even non-Google+ users can use Hangouts at work. Any Google Apps customer can start or join a high-definition video meeting that connects up to 15 participants — from a computer or Chromebox for Meetings device. Google noted that the same ability will “soon” be available on smartphones and tablets.

“Hangouts is now covered under the same Terms of Service that support our other Google Apps for Business products, like Gmail and Drive,” wrote Bayor, in a blog post . “That means we’ve got your back with 24×7 phone support and a 99.9% guaranteed uptime, as well as ISO27001, SSAE 16/ISAE 4302 and SOC 2 certification. Additional enterprise integration with Google Apps Vault is coming by the end of the year.”

Taking Hangouts to the business community is another way for Google to get its foot in the door with enterprises. However, it’s also part of the company’s effort to push out Chromebox, Google’s Chrome OS-based corporate meeting device, to a bigger, and more business-minded, audience.

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“In the coming months, we’ll be making Chromebox for Meetings work better in rooms of all shapes and sizes,” Bayor wrote. “In larger conference rooms, you can connect two displays to one Chromebox for meetings device to see your audience and project a presentation at the same time. And if you’ve ever wanted a dedicated setup for video meetings for your home, new personal calendar integration means you will be able to easily set up Chromebox for meetings outside the office.”

He added that IT administrators can better manage meetings directly from the Google Apps Admin Console, giving them options like remote starting, muting and ending a meeting.

“Google is moving into the enterprise, or at least trying to,” said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. “I know Hangouts was introduced with Google+, but Hangouts is cleaner, more understandable, and more business-friendly, as a stand-alone chat, video-chat, video-conferencing application.”

Google is scheduled to hold a Hangout on Aug. 19 to go over the new features.

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In a sign that its Chromebox for Meetings videoconferencing solution is alive and well, Google unveiled a boatload of new features and capabilities, all designed at luring businesses to its Google Apps platform.

Google said Tuesday that it would bring its Hangouts videoconferencing service underneath its Service Level Agreement, putting it on a par with its Google Apps like Gmail, Docs, and Drive. And in recognition that Google+ doesn’t enjoy the same status as it once did, Hangouts can be connected to Google accounts that haven’t signed up for the social networking service.

Since Google unveiled its Chromebox for Meetings videoconferencing solution this past spring, the company has remained relatively quiet, not even allowing PCWorld a chance to formally review the hardware. Chromebox for Meetings includes four components: either the $179 Asus Chromebox or a similar device from HP, both based on the Intel Core i7 chip; a 1080p HD camera module; a combination microphone/speaker; and an RF remote control. In the coming months, Google said, Dell will launch a Chromebox designed for its Meetings platform as well.

Google Hangouts—great for groups, provided you look at the screen.

Google hasn’t formally disclosed the price of the entire system, but an additional $250/year management fee covers the SLA agreement and future software updates. In the coming months, Google will expand the new Chromebox program from the United States, Canada and  New Zealand to the United Kingdom and Japan.

New features aimed at businesses

That SLA, Google said Tuesday, now includes 24×7 phone support and a 99.9 percent guaranteed uptime as well as ISO27001, SSAE 16/ISAE 4302 and SOC 2 certification. Later this year, Hangouts chat (not video) will be archivable to the Google Apps Vault, which has currently served as an email archive for e-discovery purposes.

Up to 15 people can join each Hangout, which now can be connected to those with or without a Google+ ID. Google also added capabilities to those who haven’t yet migrated within the Google ecosystem: BlueJeans, for example, will allow those on H.323 or SIP networks to join a Hangout via their phones, and Hangouts now supports audio conferences via the bridge as well.

Soon, Android phones and tablets will also be supported—a feature that rival Skype supports, but just via voice at the present. Admins will also be able to start, mute, and hang up meetings remotely.

Besides the disclosure that Dell would be manufacturing a Chromebox, Google didn’t offer many updates on the hardware front. One, however, is fairly important: Given that many Chromeboxes support more than one display output, dedicating one monitor to a presentation and one to the conference itself is a nice addition. For those who choose to hold those “meetings” at home, with friends, the Google service now supports personal calendar integration.

In our experience, Skype tends to be preferred for direct video calls, but Hangouts provides an easy way for groups to get together. Google clearly wants to exploit this advantage further.

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