NetMeeting, distributed free by Microsoft on the Internet, offers live video and audio links, and communal "notepads". And now it is receiving unforeseen attention from language teachers excited by its potential.
Eric Baber, director of studies at Net Learn Languages, says that computer conferencing packages previously have been prohibitively expensive for schools.
"With this, all the teacher and the students need is a regular PC, with sound capabilities and connected to the Internet. The program can just be downloaded," Mr Baber says.
Net Learn, the first private language teaching company to spot the potential of NetMeeting, caused a stir at the London Language Show last weekend with live, Internet-linked language courses.
Its NetMeeting-based course uses native speakers of Italian, English, German, French, Spanish and Russian to teach international groups of up to six students for about pound;6 an hour each. It has attracted more than 250 students from as far afield as Mongolia.
Seventy per cent of Net Learn's students are school-aged, but British schools have yet to sign up for the courses.
Net Learn is on www.nll.co.uk It also offers teacher training for those interested in running online courses (tel 0181 981 1333).