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Microsoft launches free Skype Meetings to tempt small businesses

The new software provides some business-friendly features but is limited when compared with the full Skype Business product.

Skype Meetings is geared for small business users, but it has limitations.

Those of you looking to try out a free version of Skype aimed at small businesses now have your chance.

Skype parent Microsoft on Tuesday rolled out Skype Meetings, a new variant of its audio- and video-conferencing software. Aimed at small businesses, Skype Meetings offers such features as the ability to share your screen, to collaborate on PowerPoint presentations and to get your own personal URL so you can join the meeting from any device.

Skype Meetings is free. However, it is limited when compared with the fuller-featured Skype for Business, which costs $5 per user per month. With Skype for Business, you can see the online status of your contacts, set up meetings through Microsoft Outlook and start conversations from Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.

There's another catch. Skype for Business allows up to 250 participants in an online meeting. Skype for Business lets you set up meetings with as many as 10 participants, but only for the first 60 days. After that, the number drops to three people.

Skype Meetings does offer other useful tools. During a meeting, any of the participants can use a laser pointer or whiteboard tools to highlight certain aspects of the screen. The meeting organizer can also mute the audience and tap into other features to maintain control over the meeting.

Skype is one of the most popular services for making phone and video calls and for messaging. But it's facing increased competition from messaging apps such as Viber and WhatsApp. Skype Meetings is a way for Microsoft to whet the appetite of business users, who may try it and then decide to move up to the more robust Skype for Business.

The Meetings software is available to anyone in the United States with a business email address who doesn't already have an Office 365 business subscription. That's because the Office 365 Business Essentials and the Office 365 Business Premium plans include Skype for Business as part of their features. You can try out Skype Meetings on its website.

"We're always looking for ways to help more people experience Office 365," a Microsoft spokeswoman said, "and Skype Meetings is designed to provide small businesses with an online meeting tool that's similar to what's available with Skype for Business in Office 365."