playing with the BigBlueButton

After yesterday's big announcement, I thought I should give BigBlueButton another look. An open source alternative is pretty attractive, now that the others are all absorbed into the Bborg.

I played around trying to get BBB to install in my Ubuntu Server VM in VirtualBox, but made the mistake of updating Ubuntu to 10.0.4, while BBB only works on 9.0.4. Oops. But BBB provides a VM disk image, making the process of setting up a fresh VM server absolutely trivial.

Here's the Moderator/Presenter interface, in the default meeting/classroom in BigBlueButton 0.64:

Screen shot 2010-07-08 at 1.18.42 PM.png

And, the students see this:

Screen shot 2010-07-08 at 1.18.42 PM (2).png

So far, it looks pretty darned impressive. It lets presenters upload any Office or PDF document, converts them for display, and squirts them down the tubes to all viewers. I fed it the What's the Fuss About RSS? .ppt file from Merlot 2003, and it handled it just fine. Presenters get the controls they need (slide, zoom, pan, point), and whiteboard tools are being added in BBB 0.7. Video and audio streaming are built in. Streaming of apps and/or the desktop is supported, but not included in the VM image for some reason.

BigBlueButton shows a LOT of promise. Once it's evolved a bit, I have a hard time seeing any campus being able to justify paying licensing fees for the commercial alternatives.

What it's lacking in this pre-release version:

  • integration with the LMS (Elluminate has a meeting space built into each class in Blackboard here on campus. Very handy).
  • Multiple meeting spaces / classes. The test server appears to have only the one default meeting room, and all viewers appear to be Moderators. Obviously, that'll change before 1.0.
  • Whiteboard. Already planned for the next release at 0.7 - not sure if it will allow students to have access to whiteboard tools, or if it's just for presenters...
  • ability to record meetings/classes for later playback. This feature is used a LOT in our Elluminate sessions.
  • desktop / application sharing. It's listed as a feature of BBB, but it's not in the downloadable VM disk image. I'll have to play with enabling that...

So far, I'm extremely impressed with BigBlueButton. I haven't really tested the audio yet - can it handle streaming to a bunch of people without breaking up? how about the video? How does it degrade if people connect via crappy bandwidth? (we have lots of folks that connect to our Elluminate sessions from dialup in various remote parts of the globe).

Update: I got the desktop sharing installed and working. It's not quite what I expected. It shares the entire desktop, not just a region or an app (so you need dual displays or computers to follow the chat while sharing the desktop) and it shares it as a teeny little thumbnail in the BBB session - I tried embiggening it, but had no luck. Hopefully that's something simple I've overlooked...

Screen shot 2010-07-08 at 3.10.01 PM.png

Update: I got an email from Fred Dixon, who is a member of the BigBlueButton development team. He provided some info to fill in the gaps in my post.

No support Ubuntu 10.04 – We just added support today for Ubuntu 10.04 32-bit and 64-bit installation via packages. See

Integration with the LMS – We're actually members of the Blackboard developer program, so when a university or college needs an integration, we can do it. We have integrations for Drupal, Moodle, Tiki and Sakai. See

Multiple meeting spaces / classes – Most universities and colleges use an integration for Moodle or Sakai. However, we provide an API and example integration with multiple classrooms. See this entry in our FAQ:

Whiteboard – The presenter can give whiteboard controls to any student so the student, for example, could try their hand at solving a problem. Here's an video overview of the whiteboard:

Ability to record meetings/classes for later playback – This is the last feature we need to offer a complete open source solution. After we release 0.7, we'll be working next on record and playback.

As for the audio, doing real-time VoIP conferencing over the internet depends on good bandwidth between all users. Because we use asterisk for our voice conferencing, we can also setup dial-in numbers for the virtual classrooms, so remote students can use a 1-866 number, for example. Whether a remote student uses VoIP or a dial-in number, Asterisk will mix them together in the same voice conference.

Desktop sharing – The thumbnail is just what the presenter sees. To see how the desktop sharing looks to a remote student, check out this video:

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