I was all set to talk about Skype for Business’ user experience today…and Microsoft went & debuted another Skype tool. Now I have to see what this is about!
Introducing the free Skype Meetings tool!
You’ll find a write-up at Microsoft’s Office Blogs: Introducing Free Skype Meetings – Office Blogs
Naturally I have questions.
- What kind of features are we getting with this tool?
- How does it stack up to Skype for Business?
- Does it integrate with anything?
- How well does it work?
So of course I signed up. And pestered co-workers into helping me test Skype Meetings. Here’s what I found.
How to Get and Use the Skype Meetings Tool
You don’t need a Skype Account to use Skype Meetings. A quick signup with your business email address will do.
The app is two-part – you sign up on the website, and then download the Skype Meetings app.
Running the app will prompt you to accept the auto-detected audio & video settings.
After that, you can start up your Meeting (or join an existing one) right away.
But you also get an email asking you to verify your address…and set a password…before you can go to your Skype Meetings account page.
Most of the Skype for Business Online Meeting functionality is included.
- Built-in Instant Messaging (IM)
- A Meeting-specific URL
- Join the Meeting on any device
- Screen Sharing
- Upload & share PowerPoint files
Near-identical UI too. If I didn’t know where the missing features were, I wouldn’t miss them. Which is good for non-experienced Skype for Business users…easier adoption.
Skype Meetings’ Limitations
However, the app definitely has its limitations. Those features I noticed missing? Here’s the list of what’s NOT included:
- Scheduling Meetings
- Adding more than 10 people in a Meeting*
- Polls and Q&A
- Dial-in (can use Skype Meetings on your cellphone, but you can’t call into the Meetings)
Without these features, Skype Meetings is geared toward on-the-fly Meetings. It does essentially the same thing as Google Hangouts.
There’s also the issue of signup. The Skype Meetings page says people can meet “without a subscription.” That’s trueâ€¦but they can’t just click a link and jump into a Meeting. Invitees must ALSO enter their business email and download the Skype Meetings app. Just to join the Meeting. It only takes a few steps, but still.
*Even the ability to add 10 people to a Skype Meeting is restricted. After 60 days of use, Meetings are automatically limited to 3 people max!
The Big Concern
The big concern we had was with Skype Meetings’ built-in restrictions. It is its own product, and you’re essentially on a timer from Day 1.
Does it integrate with anything? Yes…with Office 365. To gain any more features – or to add more than 3 people in a Meeting – you must upgrade to an Office 365 subscription.
Will Skype Meetings connect into Skype for Business Server? No. They are separate products. There’s no upgrade path from Skype Meetings to Skype for Business Server either. (Unless you just stopped using Skype Meetings and installed Skype for Business Server, of course.)
An article on TheVerge.com put it succinctly:
“Skype Meetings is designed to entice small companies to pay for Office 365.”
Final Thoughts: Nice for What it Does, But It’s a New Entry into a Popular Field
How best to view the new Skype Meetings tool?
As a way to introduce people to Office 365?
As a single-purpose tool for impromptu online meetings?
As a Microsoft-based alternative to Google Hangouts?
As a bait-and-switch, if you’re feeling cynical?
Skype Meetings is all of these. It does its one job and does a pretty good job of it. We experienced no stability issues or disconnects. Even screen sharing only produced a 1-second delay.
That said, there are other options for quick-and-simple free videoconferencing. Google Hangouts, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Zoom, etc. If Microsoft is hoping to grab market share away from these with Skype Meetings, it’s in for a fight.
Where do you see Skype Meetings working best in your office? Please comment or email your thoughts.