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Skype Catches Up to Google Hangouts With New Free Group Video Chat

Skype headquarters in Tallinn, Estonia.Skype headquarters in Tallinn, Estonia.
Skype headquarters in Tallinn, Estonia.Photo: Fabian Weiss—Laif/Redux

If you’ve ever wished Microsoft’s Skype was more like Google Hangouts video chatting service, today is your day.

On Tuesday, Microsoft released a free standalone version of Skype Meetings, its group video chat tool. The new Skype Meetings lets users easily start a group video call with up to 10 participants (at first, then only three after the first 60 days), without needing to sign up for any of Microsoft’s other tools.

Until now, Skype Meetings was only available as part of Skype for Business, its paid version that’s part of Office 365. The paid version, not surprisingly, comes with more features, including the ability to host group video calls with up to 250 participants. But you’d have to sign up for Office 365, which just last week had an outage for several hours in some areas.

The free Skype Meetings is a way for Microsoft to lure small business customers into using its services by offering them a taste through this lighter version of the tool.

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Skype’s consumer version already lets user host group video calls with up to 25 people, but doesn’t include the few business features baked into Skype Meetings like sharing PowerPoint presentations with participants. And like Google Hangouts, it lets participants easily join a group chat by clicking on the call’s unique web link without having to download software or go through a thousand steps to join a call. Hangouts, however, lets you video chat with up to 10 people forever, unlike Skype Meetings, which downgrades you to three after the first 60 days.

Any U.S. user whose company isn’t already using Office 365 can sign up for the service online, according to Skype Meetings’ website.