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Microsoft releases a free version of Skype for small businesses

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The first non-beta browser version of Skype

Today, Microsoft announced a free browser version of Skype aimed at small businesses. The service is called Skype Meetings, and it's the company's first web-based product after the beta release of Skype for Web last year. Skype Meetings will let you video chat with up to 10 people at a time for the first 60 days of use, and then meeting capacity is limited to three people. It also includes some of the more powerful collaboration tools included with Skype for Business, such as screen sharing and PowerPoint integration.

Skype Meetings is very similar to the free version of Skype. Both versions of the software let you video chat with the same number of people and make use of the platform's messaging capabilities. But Microsoft is clearly marketing this version of Skype as a easy, no-frills way for small companies to set up video calls. Its only real appeal over Skype's standard version is the ability to work directly in a browser and the addition of the few features it borrows from the business tier of the product.

Skype Meetings is designed to entice small companies to pay for Office 365

The goal is to entice small teams to try out Skype and then upgrade to either the video chat app's more fully featured version or subscribe to an Office 365 business plan that includes Skype. (The company even advertises Office 365 on the Skype Meetings webpage.) As video chatting becomes more and more commonplace — and easier to perform on mobile devices — Microsoft wants its platform to stay relevant. Just this year, a venture from Napster co-founder Sean Parker launched a more social-focused video chat app called Airtime, while Google continues to offer its Hangouts service free of charge. In that sense, Skype's newest product appears more like a reminder it exists than a service fulfilling a much-needed role.