Microsoft's Skype Meetings Aimed At Small Businesses

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Microsoft is offering Skype Meetings, a free, pared-down version of Skype for Business. It's aimed at small businesses, and it offers tools including HD video conferencing.

Microsoft is reaching out to small business owners with the launch of Skype Meetings, a free online meeting tool that offers real-time audio and HD video conferencing.

The platform also includes collaboration features, such as the ability to share screens and content during meetings. It is designed to be easy to use. For example, with one click anyone can join the online meeting from any device.

In addition, users can choose to meet right away or schedule from Outlook for later, and the meeting URL is personalized for the user.

Anyone in the US with a business email address and whose organization doesn't already have Office 365 can sign up for free Skype Meetings. Once they sign up, users can set up meetings for up to 10 people for the first 60 days, and for up to three people thereafter.

Businesses can also record meetings, share their screen, and annotate PowerPoint for real-time collaboration, as well as use whiteboard, polls, Q&A, and built-in instant messaging during the meetings.

The meeting organizer also gets professional meeting controls, such as the ability to mute the audience in order to be heard.

In essence, Skype Meetings is a pared down version of the more robust Skype for Business, which starts from $5 per user per month and includes enterprise capabilities and deeper integration with Outlook and other Microsoft Office applications.

"If you have an Office 365 business subscription that includes Skype for Business, then you already have richer online meetings capabilities, such as the ability to conduct large group meetings for up to 250 people and the ability to IM anyone in your organization at any time -- not just during meetings," Andrew Sinclair, general manager for Skype for Business, noted in a July 5 blog post.

In March, Microsoft announced several updates to Skype and Skype for Business, which were intended to broaden Skype services and make videoconferencing more accessible.

In his introductory keynote for Microsoft's Build 2016 developer's conference in April, CEO Satya Nadella explained the company's vision for the future of communication, which includes integrating intelligent Bots into Skype chats.

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The next generation of Skype will have Cortana always ready in the upper right-hand corner for one-on-one interaction. Cortana will broker conversations with bots to be a more proactive assistant, and to help enact the ideas you're discussing.

In addition, a new Skype client, with Skype Bots, is currently in preview on Windows, Android, iPhone, and iPad. There is also a new Skype developer program available for those who want to start building bots.

Microsoft also announced the Bot Connector and Bot Builder, which developers can use to connect bots and create new ones. The company is also working on a new digital assistant called the Bing Concierge Bot to aid users of its search engine.

Users will communicate with the Bing Concierge Bot using natural language, and the assistant will respond in the same manner. Chatting in natural language enables the assistant to collect information on a designated task so it can connect with service providers to complete it.

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