In 1996, PlaceWare was founded as a spinoff from Xerox PARC. In November of that year, PlaceWare Auditorium was described in a public talk at Stanford University as allowing "one or more people to give an interactive, online, multimedia presentation via the Web to hundreds or thousands of simultaneous attendees; the presentation can include slides (made in PowerPoint or any GIF-image editor), live annotation on the slide images, real-time polls of the audience, live audio from the presenter and those asking questions, private text and audio conversations in the auditorium's "rows", and other features." PlaceWare Auditorium was formally announced in March 1997 at a price of $150 per simultaneous user.
In April 1999, Vstream introduced the Netcall product for web conferencing as "a fee-based Internet software utility that lets you send business presentations and other graphic information via e-mail to a Vstream server. Vstream converts the content, again using streaming technology, and makes the presentation available for viewing by up to 1,200 people at a time." Vstream changed the company name to Evoke Communications in 2000, with a further change to Raindance Communications in 2002. In February 2006, Raindance was acquired by the InterCall division of West Corporation.
In May 1995, PictureTel announced LiveShare Plus as a general-use data collaboration product for Windows-based personal computers. The software allowed application sharing, user-granted control of a remote PC, shared whiteboard markup, file transfer, and text messaging. List price was given as $249 per computer. PictureTel referenced an agreement with Microsoft in its announcement press release, and a May 26, 1995 memo from Bill Gates to Microsoft executive staff and direct reports said "Our PictureTel screen sharing client allowing Window sharing should work easily across the Internet."
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.
In February 1998, Starlight Networks released StarLive! (the exclamation point being part of the product name). The press release said "customers can access familiar Web browser interfaces to view live and pre-recorded corporate presentations, along with synchronized slides. End users can communicate directly with the presenter using real-time chat technology and other Web-based collaboration tools."
A webinar is a live, web-based video conference that uses the internet to connect the individual (or multiple individuals) hosting the webinar to an audience of viewers and listeners from all over the world. Hosts can show themselves speaking, switch to their computer screens for slideshows or demonstrations, and even invite guests from other locations to co-host the webinar with them.