"I think web-based collaboration is the killer app of today," says Jim Huzell. "It's transferring now from audio conferencing to many more players entering the market."

Huzell is the president of Genesys Conferencing, a French-headquartered company which claims to have invented automated tele-conferencing some 20 years ago. More recently, it acquired a Toronto-based web-conferencing company in 2001, and then last December introduced an integrated web, voice and video collaboration suite called Meeting Centre and built using Ajax, a Javascript and XML-based technique for programming interactive web pages.

Somewhat controversially, Huzell argues that of the available elements, video is probably the least important. He suggests that the only real uses for video in business are likely to be personal interviews, plus perhaps getting to know someone - before you then get on and use the other collaborative technologies available to you.

"This constant prediction that people want video won't fly," he says. "It's great for personal calls and social interaction, but then you shut it down and get to work."

He adds that the acceptance of things such as instant messaging, application sharing and VoIP by Microsoft and Lotus, both of which have embedded collaborative tools in their office suites, is a good sign, but points out that both also want to sell you a whole stack of infrastructure to support it all. "Using Microsoft, you need 13 servers for the full communications suite," he says.

When it comes to choosing collaborative tools, he says it's important to remember that as well as synchronous chat - whether by voice, video or text - you might also want to support collaborative events, such as online meetings or training sessions. "Asynchronous collaboration is also important - that's email, calendar sharing and so on," he adds.

"Our average is six to seven people per call, but there is a big standard deviation - we have customers running weekly with 100-plus," he says. "It changes the mode though - up to 20 is collaboration, 20-plus is a presentation or a panel event."

The big advantage he claims for web-based collaboration is its relative openness, although that of course has had to be fought for - and still needs to be guarded vigilantly - in an IT industry where too many suppliers want to lock their users in, and others will abuse the opportunities that openness brings.

"The dream of VoIP is an open world, but again we see the Avaya's and Cisco's trying to lock people in with proprietary elements," he says. "You also have to have Java on your machine - the fight between Sun and Microsoft made that difficult. Then of course the porn industry ruined pop-ups - we used to use pop-ups a lot, so we were forced to change that."

However, on the issue of compatibility Genesys is as guilty as anyone, for Huzzell admits that its VoIP is a proprietary variety - although he says that support for other VoIP flavours will come. And unless you're a moderator, it's not embedded into the web conferencing either and must be downloaded separately.

"It consumes less bandwidth than SIP or Skype," he adds in its defence. "Its sound quality is acceptable, and it is encrypted, so companies will trust it. I expect most to use dial-up audio though - we have customers who are on the bleeding edge of VoIP, and others who say to me, 'Jim, we'll be the last ones in the world to go VoIP.'"

But he says that standards are coming, and some are here already, such as the open source iCal format for calendar entries. Plus software such as Meeting Centre can bridge the gap between the likes of Microsoft and Lotus because it can integrate with either.

Huzell predicts that 2007 will be the year not just of collaboration software, but of e-collaboration standards.

"I think Google and Yahoo will support the standard formats, but they are also competing with us - it is co-opetition today," he adds.

And he says that the big thing that everyone needs to address is usability: "Functionally, ease of use is essential. Large organisations cannot afford to have people in training for anything, but you do need to do a lot of fine tuning to minimise training."