Polycom wants to build a modern conference call that doesn’t suck

Polycom, which is familiar to many an office worker as the name on the teleconferencing and conference call gear in their meeting rooms, has heard Marc Andreessen’s call that software is eating the world. So in a bid to avoid becoming Skype or some other VoIP’s provider’s lunch, the California-based conferencing company is making a big bet on software that ties all of your VoIP and presence software together.

Polycom (s plcm) dubs the showcase software for its better collaboration RealPresence CloudAxis. The gist of it is that someone can now connect people who use Skype, with those on FaceTime or even Facebook all in a browser window. Once connected, those users can talk, provide a video and share screens, links and chat. As someone who works with people who are on at least four different services being able to see everyone online is awesome. Even better is the ability to connect with those people without undergoing the lengthy dialog that looks something like this:

Me: This is too much to type. Can we go voice?
Kevin: Sure
Me: Skype? hangout? phone?
Kevin: Facetime?
Me: Arghhh

Most of us have probably been there. But if I have the RealPresence CloudAxis software, after I ask for voice and Kevin says Sure, I can just shoot him a link and forgo some painful “What app should we use?” conversation. And while GigaOM almost never uses WebEx (or GoToMeeting) this service could work well for those type of scenarios since it allows for screen-sharing, all without downloading a client onto the call recipient’s desktop.

Just sign into your presence-aware related services to generate your contacts.

I can’t wait to try it. I spend a lot of time on informal and planned conference calls every day and the experience is one that drives me nuts. If I’m not trying to update Java or download a client to get some fancy collaboration suite to work, I’m negotiating with my colleagues about which server they want to use. And I don’t even want to say how much time a week I spend dialing into conference calls. Interoperability across presence, having built-in collaboration tools like chat and screen sharing and being able to launch the call from a link, all sound pretty sweet to me.

You can start a call with people from a variety of services.

The beta launches Monday, and Polycom plans to sell a corporate license for the technology as well as license it to service providers who can then offer it to consumers as part of a telecommunications package. And while I’m really excited about the product, I think the sales model is far too old-fashioned to work in today’s bring your own device and consumer-oriented world.

I asked if Polycom plans to release some type of limited app for home office workers or individuals to buy if their corporate office won’t shell out for it, mostly because I think this is software I’d love to use. The answer was vague. It won’t now, but maybe one day it would.

With this software Polycom is emphasizing how much it’s willing to change to keep current with a lot of VoIP and consumer technology that’s taking over the conferencing and collaboration space, but I think it needs to change its sales strategy as well. Because if this software does what Polycom says it does, I’d pay for it even if my company wants to stick with WebEx.