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Family meeting! Chocolate Factory makes its business-like video-chat service free to anyone with a Google account

Oh goody. Yet another tech support channel for relatives to abuse

Google is making its Meet video-chat service free to anyone who wants it, as long as you have a Google account.

Perhaps with an eye on the soaraway success of Zoom, and conscious of the fact that, let's face it, Hangouts has its limitations, Meet (formerly a paid-for service aimed at businesses) will be free, albeit with a few provisos.

The first is that you'll need a Google account to use the thing; no flinging around links willy-nilly here. That account is "so it remains secure", according to a representative.

The second is that individuals will be limited to 60 minutes of on-screen yappery (although the Chocolate Factory won't be enforcing this until 30 September).

Like other video-conferencing services, Google said it has seen Meet's usage rocket in recent months. The company had reported a 30x increase in its peak daily usage since January. In April, Meet hosted three billion minutes of video meetings and added approximately three million new users every day, up from two million a week or so ago.

Last week alone, the figure for daily meeting participants passed the 100 million mark.

With that 60-minute limit in the future, the freebie tier (which allows up to 100 people at a time, replete with screen-sharing and real-time captioning) will permit up to 24 hours of gabbing. Or roughly the amount of time needed to talk a relation through accessing The Crown on Netflix via a smart TV.

Naturally, Google is keen that at least some of those freebie customers might consider casting aside their LibreOffice or Microsoft 365 in favour of G Suite, and as such is also unveiling a free version of its line-up in the form of G Suite Essentials. This adds recording and dial-in numbers to Meet as well as access to tools such as Google Drive and Docs.

G Suite Essentials, however, is only free until 30 September so be careful what you sign up for.

Those who have already ponied up the cash for a G Suite sub have been tossed a bone through 30 September in the form of free access to some of Meet's more advanced features, such as the ability to live-stream to 100,000 viewers in the domain as well as additional free Meet licences without fiddling with contracts.

The rollout kicks off next week, and Google will be keeping a close eye on its systems to avoid any embarrassing outages as users are added. Rivals, including Microsoft, have tottered under the sudden increases in demand during March and April.

The move is not altogether surprising, and comes after Google plugged Meet into its Gmail service. It may, however, give the current darling of the video-chatting generation, Zoom, a few sleepless nights. ®

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