We’re nearly one month into the pandemic that is responsible for millions of employees and students making the move to online work and learning. In that shift, no software has seen a rise in popularity as much a chat and video conferencing apps. As a matter of fact, Google Engineer Justin Uberti proposed that March 17th was very possibly the busiest day for video conferencing in history. The happy side of this story is that there is a bucket full of video meeting platforms out there that have allowed users to quickly and easily make this transition and do so at no cost. Many companies that offer chat software have gone so far as to up the features offered on their free tiers to make meetings more manageable and accessible. That’s especially important for students and consumers who are looking for alternatives for face-to-face meetups.
If you have scrolled through Google News, Twitter, Facebook or any other site that “reports” current events, you have likely heard the name Zoom. The video meeting software company has seen an overnight explosion in its user-base thanks to its low barrier of entry, free plan and cross-platform capabilities. We at Chrome Unboxed have even shared a couple of articles on how to best use the chat software. According to a blog post from Zoom, their daily meeting numbers ballooned a whopping 2000% in March compared to December of 2019. More than 200 million free and paid meetings are taking place on a daily basis via Zoom. Sadly, we aren’t living in a perfect world and that truism applies just as much to software as it does anything.
As Zoom’s explosion in growth continues, so does a surmounting list of complaints against the chat software that range from exposed emails to unauthorized installations, stealing Windows credentials and let’s not forget about the absolutely horrid trend of “Zoombombing” that’s exposing our kids to garbage adult content and uninvited chatroom guests with malicious intent. Now, I am not here to bash Zoom but the outlandish number of reports surrounding the security (or lack-there-of), privacy and grey areas surrounding Zoom’s ToS are enough to make me take pause before letting my kids hop on a video chat. I’ll save the rant for other bloggers but if you’d like to get an in-depth look at all of the questionable issues that Zoom is facing, The Verge’s Casey Newton penned a wonderful piece on the subject that points out exactly where Zoom went wrong and in Zoom’s defense, the CEO did just publish a massive blog post outlining a 90-day plan to improve the platform.
All that said, I am writing with the hopes of creating more awareness of some alternative tools that are available to users that present better security and a similar barrier to entry as Zoom. Both of these platforms have been around for a decade or more and offer cross-platform capability. Not only that, they come from companies that deal with enterprise-level security, (Which is what Zoom claimed they did but that wasn’t exactly true.) Here are two great alternatives to Zoom that will offer you a similar experience and allow you as many as 100 participants in a meeting and are completely free for most users.
Haven’t heard that name in a while, have you? Yes, Microsoft’s messaging platform is alive and well and thank’s to the progressive web, you can use Skype on just about any device. With Skype’s “Meet Now” feature, you can even create a meeting and get your call up and running without an account or the need for your participants to log into anything. Simply create your meeting, share the link and users can join directly from the browser. On a Chromebook, you will get an error message that says Chrome OS can’t open the page. Dismiss the message and click Join as a guest. This room is fairly basic but you can share your screen which is mostly what users need right now. For more functionality, the host can sign up for a free Microsoft account and secure the chat by locking the room when all participants have arrived. Check out Skype at the link below.
A leader in enterprise network technology, Cisco Systems acquired WebEx in 2007 and since it has evolved into a powerful and versatile web conferencing platform. Currently, Cisco has opened the throttle on their freemium tier and users can connect to as many as 100 participants with no limits on meeting time. The free plan hosts a lot of other great features including cross-platform, browser-based meetings and call-in via VoIP.
- Up to 100 participants in each meeting (Up from 50)
- Meet as long as you want (Up from 40 min limit)
- Call-in for audio (in addition to existing VoIP capabilities)
- Unlimited number of meetings
- Desktop, application, file & whiteboard sharing options
- Video conferencing features
- Webex Teams collaboration features
- Mobile features
- Security features
- Online support
The question was posed to me this morning, “would you used Zoom for a meeting today?” My answer is a hard no. That is not to say that I don’t believe that Zoom won’t get their house in order. I simply feel that there are better options available right now while they get their ducks in a row. Ask me again in three months and I have high hopes my answer will be different.
Featured image credit: DreamsTime