Use of video conferencing and other workplace collaboration tools have hit record highs in recent weeks, owing to the remote-working and social-distancing measures imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Three of the most popular platforms being used right now are Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, all of which allow you to stay in touch with your colleagues and link up with friends and family for weekly digital get-togethers. Yet while they all share the common capability of messaging and video calls, each come with their own features that might make one a better option for your specific needs than the other.
Read on for an overview of what Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet have to offer, and how they compare.
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Zoom has quickly become a go-to for many users looking for a straightforward way to catch up with colleagues, friends and relatives during the lockdown. The service offers HD video and audio calls alongside chat functionality, all of which can be accessed from desktop PC, Android and Apple devices. Zoom also, famously, has customizable virtual backgrounds, which are equally good at adding some character to your calls as they are adding a layer of privacy – particularly if you’re working out of a bedroom that you’d rather keep from prying eyes.
Two flavors of Zoom are available. The basic Free version of the app can host up to 100 participants and unlimited one-on-one meetings, with video calls capped at 40 minutes. Meanwhile, the Pro version costs $14.99/ £11.99 a month and offers all the capabilities of the free app, while also including improved admin controls that allows hosts to record and encrypt meetings (up to 1GB), customize Meeting IDs and use scheduling and analytics tools.
The Pro version also bumps up the maximum meeting duration to 24 hours – though God forbid should you ever need that long.
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Above that are the Business versions of Zoom, which offer support for between 300 and 1,000 participants and a bunch of extras such as dedicated phone support, single sign-on tools, as well as an admin dashboard, custom emails and even vanity URLs. You also get access to all the Pro features of Zoom by default.
All versions of Zoom offer integration with popular email and calendar applications like Microsoft Office 365, Outlook, Gmail and iCal, making it easy to schedule and join meetings – the latter of which you do by simply following a link.
While Zoom security has been criticised in the past, the company has gone to lengths to address this more recently. Zoom 5.0 now offers fully encrypted meetings and better tools for hosts to control who does and does not have access to the meeting. This includes the Waiting Room feature and a new Report User button within the security controls designed to put an end to the irksome trend of ‘zoomboombing’.
Zoom from May, a number of safeguards will be deployed to free Basic Zoom users by default, including password requirements for all meetings as well as Waiting Rooms for call using personal meeting IDs. At the same time, only the meeting Host will have screen sharing privileges turned on by default
Microsoft Teams offers something of a more robust feature set to Zoom, being primarily aimed at business customers as opposed to casual users. Key to Teams’ appeal is its integration with Office 365 and staple Microsoft productivity tools like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. As well as being able to chat and video call, users can share and collaborate on Office documents in real time, with shared files synched with OneDrive and SharePoint to keep copies securely in the cloud. These tools can be accessed in one place alongside Teams’ core video and chat functionalities, making it a comprehensive, all-in-one collaboration suite for office teams.
SEE: Microsoft Teams: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
Much like Zoom, Microsoft Teams is available in both free and paid-for versions on Android, iOS and Windows devices. For those without an Office 365 subscription, Microsoft has a free version of Teams that can be downloaded as a standalone service. Users can sign up for this using their email address.
The Free edition of Teams offers unlimited chat messages and search, video and audio calls, file and screen sharing, plus the ability to collaborate on Office documents.
Office 365 subscriptions start at $8.00/ £3.80 per month, offering additional support for video conferencing with up 250 participants and live events with up to 10,000 people. Those with an Office subscription get access to additional features like meeting scheduling and reporting capabilities, as well as more robust security features including multi-factor authentication.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Microsoft is offering businesses a free, six-month free trial of Office 365 E1, which includes access to Teams. While Zoom has claimed a chunk of its potential user base since the outbreak began, Microsoft has gone to lengths to present itself as a more secure offering to that of its rivals.
Not to be outdone by Zoom, Microsoft has also recently added virtual backgrounds to Teams to let you hide your messy home office with something a tad more professional-looking. While this is currently limited to stock images provided by Microsoft, an update is expected in May that will allow users to upload custom backgrounds.
Another update expected in May will see group text chats in Microsoft Teams increased from 100 participants to 250.
Google Meet is the web and search monolith’s own answer to remote workplace get-togethers. Not wanting to lose footing against Zoom and Microsoft, the company recently made its video chat app available for free.
Until recently, Google Meet has only been available to enterprise users of Google’s G Suite platform. From this month, however, availability is being expanded to anybody with a Google Account, who can sign into the service from their web browser using their Gmail address.
Google Meet allows users to host video meetings with up to 100 participants at once, offering screen sharing and recording capabilities, scheduling, and real-time captioning. For Free users, video meetings are capped at 60 minutes, however users will be able to enjoy meetings of unlimited length up until 30 September.
SEE: G Suite: Tips and tricks for business professionals (TechRepublic download)
Google has added a handful of new features to Meet in recent weeks as it looks to challenge rivals Zoom and Microsoft Teams. This includes a Zoom-esque expanded tile view that lets 16 people be displayed on-screen at once, as well as “intelligent” background noise filtering that aims to remove disruptive pets and other noisy nuisances from calls.
As well as being accessible via the web, apps are also available for Google Meet on both Android and iOS devices. Meet is integrated with G Suite, allowing users to join meetings directly from Google’s Calendar app or via email invite. G Suite’s Enterprise edition also creates a dial-in phone number for each meeting. Users with a G Suite application can benefit from integration with Google apps like Docs, Drive, Sheets and Notes.
On the security front, Google touts its video chat offer as being secure by default, with Meet featuring host controls allowing users to admit deny and mute participants, encrypted meetings and complex meetings IDs that are resilient to brute-force hacking attempts.