Virtual Office Pro

Small businesses need phone service and online meeting tools to get started. Instead of going for separate tools, Virtual Office Pro bundles both services for $50/month. With it, you get unlimited voice calling and online conferencing.

Phone service sounds great and includes faxing. Online conferencing includes video chat and screen sharing, but it lacks basic document sharing. Unfortunately, weak design choices, strange problems, and other limitations make Virtual Office Pro feel like it tries to do too much without first fulfilling the basics.

Phone service anchors Virtual Office Pro. After a $40 installation fee, the monthly rate includes all calls in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. That service even includes Guam, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, making it a great fit if you do regular business in one of those locations.

Your locally-assigned phone number places and receive calls in several ways. A Flash-enabled browser acts as a phone, ideally paired with a headset microphone. 8x8 sells a hardware VoIP phone for $200 that sits on your desk.

An iPhone app works through a Wi-Fi or 3G connection, although the current version can't work in the background. Calls sound clear in all tested combinations. (A hardware phone wasn't included in this review.)

Online conferencing tools include several good features, but never feel complete. You can video chat with up to 8 other people. Text chat is also supported.

Virtual Office Pro calls out to meeting participants' phone lines, conveniently connecting them to the voice conference. You can share specific application windows or your entire screen with the group, but you can't upload and share files within the browser interface. This omission sinks conferences for those who want to publish a PowerPoint deck, PDF, or other file, instead of juggling those native applications.

Other interface and design issues can make the service feel untested. Connect on a laptop with a mid-sized screen height--800 pixels for example--and the bottom of the interface might get cut off.

You can send incoming calls to the various Virtual Office Pro options or a "real" phone, but those settings don't include advanced options, such as ringing certain phones after business hours.

All together, Virtual Office Pro's unlimited long-distance calling could save your business money, but its other features are mediocre. You can't set up advanced call routing functions, and the online conferencing tool omits important options that many businesses need.

This story, "Virtual Office Pro" was originally published by PCWorld.


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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