Unveiled in 1996 by InSoft Inc., CoolTalk was a multimedia software tool that let PC users view data displayed on a shared whiteboard, exchange real-time messages via a chat tool or speak with each other via a TCP/IP voice connection. The product worked with Microsoft Sound System-compatible audio boards and was available in a 14.4-kbit/s version or 28.8-kbit/s version. CoolTalk was later packaged with popular Web browsers of the time. CoolTalk 14.4 and 28.8 sold for $49.95 and $69.95, respectively, in 1996.
A trademark for the term WEBinar (first three letters capitalized) was registered in 1998 by Eric R. Korb (Serial Number 75478683, USPTO) and was reassigned to InterCall. The trademark registration was cancelled in 2007. Learn.com filed a claim for the term "webinar" without regard to font or style in 2006 (Serial Number 78952304, USPTO). That trademark claim was abandoned in 2007 and no subsequent filing has been made.
In 1992, InSoft Inc. launched Communique, a software-based Unix teleconferencing product for workstations that enabled video/audio/data conferencing. Communique supported as many as 10 users, and included revolutionary features such as application sharing, audio controls, text, graphics, and whiteboarding which allowed networked users to share and manipulate graphic objects and files using simple paint tools.
Presentation of visual materials most often is accomplished through one of two primary methodologies. The web conferencing software may show participants an image of the presenter's computer screen (or desktop). Again, depending upon the product, the software may show the entire visible desktop area or may allow selection of a physical area or application running on the presenter's computer. The second method relies on an upload and conversion process (most commonly consisting of Microsoft PowerPoint files, other Microsoft Office electronic documents, or Adobe PDF documents).
Real-time text chat facilities such as IRC appeared in the late 1980s. Web-based chat and instant messaging software appeared in the mid-1990s. The PLATO computer learning system allowed students to collaborate on networked computers to accomplish learning tasks as early as the 1960s, but the early networking was not accomplished via the World Wide Web and PLATO's collaborative goals were not consistent with the presenter-audience dynamic typical of web conferencing systems. PLATO II, in 1961, featured two users at once.
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Depending on the technology being used, participants may speak and listen to audio over standard telephone lines or via computer microphones and speakers. Some products allow for use of a webcam to display participants, while others may require their own proprietary encoding or externally provided encoding of a video feed (for example, from a professional video camera connected via an IEEE 1394 interface) that is displayed in the session.