In the wake of coronavirus outbreak quarantines, lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders, use of video chats apps and services has surged. Many people are now working from home, and in-person visits have gone digital.
While there are many options available, whether you’re looking for a way to spend a virtual happy hour or host a brainstorming session with coworkers, two popular choices are Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Here’s how the two video-chat and conferencing apps compare — especially in light of Zoom’s recent security and privacy issues.
If your workplace uses Office 365, you already have access to Microsoft Teams — a platform for chat, video conferencing and audio calls. The workplace communication hub integrates with Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other Office apps for seamless presenting and file sharing. The app has a similar feel to Slack — you can talk to team members privately or in specific channels, and you can call attention to the whole group or just an individual with the mention feature.
You can video chat with up to 250 people at once with Teams, or present live to up to 10,000 people. Share meeting agendas prior to a conference, invite external guests to join a meeting, and access past meeting recordings and notes. Meetings can be scheduled in the Teams app or through Outlook.
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As more people began to rely on video conferencing amid the pandemic, Microsoft posted a blog about its security practices, and the company regularly posts in a Transparency Hub. Microsoft said it doesn’t use your Teams data to provide ads, it doesn’t track participant attention, and it deletes all your data after your subscription ends — making a pretty clear effort to differentiate itself from Zoom and its many privacy and security concerns.
Teams is included with your Office 365 subscription, but you can also download a free version. In March, Microsoft lifted limitations on the free version so businesses and schools can use it even without a traditional subscription. The company is also offering a six-month free trial of Office 365 E1, Microsoft’s enterprise software suite, for businesses that aren’t already licensed for Teams. Office 365 business plans that include Teams start at $5/user/month.
The Zoom video conference app works for Android, iOS, PC and Mac. The app offers a basic free plan that hosts up to 100 participants. There are also options for small and medium business teams ($15-$20 a month per host) and large enterprises for $20 a month per host with a 50-host minimum. You can adjust meeting times, and select multiple hosts. Up to 1,000 users can participate in a single Zoom video call, and 49 videos can appear on the screen at once.
The app has HD video and audio capabilities, collaboration tools like simultaneous screen-sharing and co-annotation, and the ability to record meetings and generate transcripts. Outlook, Gmail and iCal support scheduling and starting meetings. In Gmail, for example, just click the calendar icon, then click the time of your meeting, then click the link under Join Zoom Meeting. If the host scheduled it, there might also be call-in options.
If your mic and camera are off, Zoom has the option to communicate via chat (the interface looks a bit like Slack). This feature can also be helpful if it’s a massive all-hands meeting and the opportunity for questions is available.
It’s free to sign up with Zoom — you can either manually create an account with an email or sign in with Google or Facebook.
If you use Zoom, it’s important to take into consideration the security issues that have come to light since its rapid rise in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic. Privacy experts have expressed concerns over the video-conferencing software’s privacy risks and hacking vulnerabilities, as well as zoombombing (where uninvited attendees break into and disrupt meetings). The New York City Department of Education recently told teachers to stop using Zoom in favor of Microsoft Teams while security threats are addressed by the company.
However, if you’re still using the platform, there are some steps you can take to protect your meetings, like using a per-meeting ID and enabling the “Waiting Room” feature so you can see who is attempting to join a meeting before allowing access.
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Keep in touch with loved ones while keeping your distance