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Microsoft Offers Free Skype Meetings and Releases New Mac Client Preview

Microsoft this week made a couple of Skype announcements, including improvements to a Skype for Business Mac client that's at the private preview stage, as well as a new free Skype Meetings offering.

The free Skype Meetings conference call offer, announced here, is just for U.S. organizations that aren't Office 365 users and that have business e-mail addresses in place. It's also limited to meetings with 10 people maximum for 60 days. Thereafter, it's limited to three people.

Users of the free Skype Meetings service need to sign up for it. Those setting up a meeting will get a customized URL link to send to participants to join a conference. They can then share screens and send instant messages. Presenters have a mute button for audience focus. PowerPoint presentations can be uploaded and there's support for white-board screen drawing.

The free Skype Meetings service works on PC, Mac, Android, iPhone and iPad devices, although they'll need to have a "browser, microphone, speaker and camera" for the meetings. The software automatically installs in most browsers, according to this Microsoft how-to video.

On the Mac client side, Microsoft announced this week that its Skype for Business Mac client is still at the private preview stage and Microsoft is not seeking more participants (it currently has 22,000 individuals testing it). That limitation seems to be somewhat of a disappointment, based on reader comments in Microsoft's announcement, because the current Lync 2011 Mac client is described as being "deficient" or it "refuses to connect," leaving some Mac Skype users in a lurch.

Microsoft first rolled out the private preview of the Mac Skype for Business client back in April, but it was an invite-only debut. Back then, the team promised a phased rollout in which it would add IM, presence and contacts capabilities to the client in early summer, with telephony features arriving in late summer. The general availability release of the client is planned for "this fall," per Microsoft's announcement.

This month, the private preview client has been upgraded to include contacts and presence capabilities, which are useful for finding out if Skype meeting participants are available. It's also possible now to view up to four meeting participants at the same time. The preview also has a peer-to-peer calling capability that facilitates direct voice-over-IP calls and it has a "conversation history" capability.

Microsoft's announcement didn't explain when the Skype for Business Mac client would reach public beta status, although it seems timed somewhere between summer and fall of this year. Possibly, smaller organizations could get by with the free Skype Meetings offering, which runs in a browser.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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