Video conferencing is having a moment… or a few months at least. With millions of people around the world stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom has seen an explosion of new users who are holding work meetings, birthday parties, and everything else on the internet.

Rivals have been rolling out new features as well — Facebook launched Messenger Rooms for large group video calls, Microsoft is pushing its Skype Meet Now conference calls, and Google and Facebook have increased the number of people who can participate in WhatsApp and Duo video calls.

Now Google has taken its biggest step yet toward offering a true Zoom competitor — its making its Google Meet video conferencing software free to use for everyone.

While Google Meet isn’t brand new, up until now it was a premium service meant for businesses, schools, or other organizations.

Google says starting in early May anyone with a Google account will be able to sign up for Meet and use it for free. While some features will still require a subscription, here’s what you’ll be able to do with a free account:

  • Set up video conferences with up to 100 participants.
  • Free sessions can run for up to 60 minutes.
  • You can schedule meetings send links to participants in advance.
  • Screen sharing is support.
  • You can enable real-time captions.
  • Layouts can be adjusted (including a new Zoom-like tile view that lets you see up to 16 people at once).

You’ll still need a premium G Suite account to access advanced features including video conferencing without time limits or live streaming to up to 100-thousand viewers on your domain.

Even as a premium-only service, Google says Meet has seen a 30x growth in “peak daily usage” since January. Making the basic service free for everyone will likely boost those numbers… if people aren’t already committed to using Zoom or another alternative.

In case you’re wondering. Zoom’s free service also supports up to 100 participants, but sessions end after 40 minutes unless you pay for a Pro account. Meanwhile the open source Jitsi Meet video chat service has no time limits, but currently tops out at 75 participants on a call (and service may degrade on calls with more than 35 people).

 

 

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