Google Meet video conferencing is now free for anybody

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Google is opening up its Google Meet videoconferencing service to anybody who wants to use it, instead of just offering it to enterprise and education customers via G Suite. The company says anybody with a Google account will now be able to create free meetings of up to 100 people that can last any amount of time — though after September 30th it may restrict meeting length to 60 minutes.

That Google account requirement is a hard one, however. People won’t be able to just click a link and join a meeting — they’ll need to be logged in. That is so meetings can be better controlled by their hosts, hopefully eliminating the possibility of Zoombombing. Google will also introduce other safety measures: people not explicitly added to a meeting via a calendar invite will be automatically entered into a green room when they try to join a meeting, and only be let in when approved by the host. The free version will also not offer landline dial-in numbers for meetings.

Those safety-focused caveats are Google’s way of differentiating its Meet product from Zoom, which has had a meteoric rise that over the past few months and caught both Google and Microsoft flat-footed. The increased attention on Zoom revealed a litany of security problems, which the fast-growing company has scrambled to address. But Google is seemingly hoping there’s still an opening for people who distrust Zoom.

Google has trust problems of its own when it comes to conferencing and messaging products. Google Meet only became “Google Meet” earlier this month — before that the service was called Hangouts Meet. That’s a legacy of the fractured and convoluted history of Google’s messaging and video apps the company is still trying to escape. Hangouts Chat, Google’s Slack and Teams competitor, was also recently renamed to Google Chat.

Some Google users may remember (or still be using) Hangouts Video chat, another one of those legacy products. Google says that product will be transitioned to Google Meet over time, so that there’s just one platform for both consumers and enterprise customers. Google’s slow-and-steady progress is laudable for enterprise users looking for stability from a company once famous for its product-killing Spring cleanings, but at this point it’s past time to fully sunset the Hangouts brand.

Google Meet recently updated to support “Gallery view,” the Brady Bunch-style of putting all participants in a single grid that Zoom largely popularized. The new mode is available in apps on mobile platforms and inside browsers on the desktop.

That’s unlikely to change anytime soon — unlike its competitors, Google is keeping G Suite and its related product as web-first apps. That allows them to be always-updated and easier to manage than native Windows or macOS apps, but the approach can introduce hassles like losing your meeting in a sea of tabs or accidentally exiting out of it.

Alongside the consumer availability for Meet, Google is unveiling a new tier for G Suite that it’s calling “G Suite Essentials,” which includes Meet and also Google Drive, but not Gmail. All current G Suite customers will still have free access to Meet through September 30th.

Lastly, Meet is also getting integrated into Gmail — both G Suite versions and regular consumer Gmail addresses. In the same way that Microsoft has leveraged its Office dominance to drive people to Teams, Google is fully utilizing Gmail’s power to push its integrated video conferencing app.

Zoom may have captured the zeitgeist, but Google and Microsoft are going to do their best to make sure it doesn’t capture any more of the market.

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