Update: Coronavirus prompts collaboration tool makers to offer wares for free

Several vendors, including Microsoft, Google, Slack, Zoom, Cisco and LogMeIn, are making chat, videoconferencing and other collaboration services free as demand for remote working booms.

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Major collaboration and video conferencing software vendors are now offering products to users for free in response to the spread of the coronavirus. 

Concerns about the COVID-19 virus have led to a worldwide boom in remote working, as organizations encourage or require employees to stay home and cities, states and even some countries go on lockdown. 

While many companies have seen their stock prices take a battering due to disruption caused by the virus, some software vendors that enable remote work, such as videoconferencing software provider Zoom, have seen their share value climb dramatically.

Although many collaboration and communication providers already offer free — but limited — versions of their software, amid the ongoing crisis many have announced further deals, typically to provide additional paid features at no extra cost. Some have made their services free to health and educational organizations as well.

We’ve tracked these offers below (in alphabetical order by company name) and will keep updating this story as more are announced.

8x8

The unified communications vendor announced new features for its free standalone video app, 8x8 Video Meetings. This includes unlimited usage, calendar plug-ins to schedule meetings directly from Google Calendar and Outlook, and real-time closed captions and transcription.

Atlassian

Atlassian recently made a wider range of applications available for free. Teams of up to ten can access cloud-based versions of Jira Software, Confluence, Jira Service Desk and Jira Core at no cost.

Avaya

Like most video conferencing vendors, Avaya has seen a huge increase in use, with a 1,800% increase in video traffic for its Spaces video and chat collaboration platform since the COVID-19 crisis unfolded. Avaya is now offering any customer free access to Spaces for 60 days, including Business and Power tiers.

Users can apply for the offer online.

CafeX

CafeX’s Challo collaboration app is free to use until July 1.

Cisco

Cisco has expanded the list of features available as part of its free Webex offer in all countries where it is available. Additional features include support for up to 100 participants and unlimited usage. Customers that are not already using the service can sign up to a free 90-day license.

Facebook

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on March 18 that one of the paid versions of the company’s enterprise social network, Workplace, will be offered free of charge to government agencies and emergency services for 12 months. Applications for the free Workplace Advanced service — which typically costs $4 per user per month — will be “qualified by the Workplace team.”

Front

The collaborative email software vendor announced that its app is available for free for a full year for businesses working on Covid-19 front-line responses. This includes unlimited seats per team, access to a full library of onboarding materials and support from Front’s support team.

Front is currently working on a landing page, and has asked those interested in the offer to send an email to rapid-response@frontapp.com.

Google

Google is offering advanced Hangouts Meet videoconferencing capabilities to all G Suite and G Suite Education customers at no extra cost. The features, usually available to enterprise tier subscribers, include access to larger meetings of up to 250 participants, live streaming for up to 100,000 viewers in a single domain, and the ability to record meetings and save them to Google Drive. 

The move is set to remain in place until July 1.

GanttPro

Project management software provider GanttPro will offer its software for free to  healthcare-related education and charity organizations until Aug. 15. Users can apply for the 50% discount online.

GForge

The Iowa-based collaboration softare maker said on March 23 that it would offer its platform, in both SaaS or on-premises formats, for free for up to 12 months. The one-year-free option is available to new customers; exisiting customers can access a free upgrade to unlimited users for as long as year.

GForge focuses on project management, software development and team chat.

Igloo Software

Digital workplace provider Igloo Software announced that it is offering new and existing customers a free Business Continuity Bundle to help organizations transition to a remote work setup. The bundle includes a news hub for communications with employees, a place for company leaders to communicate, and a collaboration hub for the company’s incident planning team. The free offer is effective until July 6.

LogMeIn

LogMeIn is making its GoToMeeting videoconferencing product available for free for three months to “critical front-line service providers,” the company said in a statement. That includes healthcare providers, educational institutions, municipalities and nonprofit organizations.

LogMeIn has also made GoToConnect - its cloud phone and unified communication platform - available to K-12 schools for free. The offer will last until the end of the school year. 

Loom

Video messaging platform Loom announced that it is removing recording limits on its free plan (formerly capped at 25), cutting the price of Loom Pro from $10/month to $5 a month, and extending its free trial of Loom Pro from 14 to 30 days. These offers are valid until July 1.

Additionally, the company announced that Loom Pro is now free in perpetuity for students and teachers who are using Loom for classroom work.

LumApps

Intranet platform provider LumApps is offering customers an emergency communications portal to stay connected with employees remotely during the pandemic crisis. This includes access to templates for crisis communications, such as a news center, team community forums, virtual town halls and best practice tips for remote workers. Customers can request access on LumApp’s website.

The company says the portals will be free until June 30.

Microsoft

Microsoft is making the premium version of its Teams collaboration application available for free as part of a six-month trial offer for Office365 E1 payment plan. 

A free version of Teams is already available with limited features compared to the paid tier. On March 10, Microsoft lifted restrictions on user limits in the free Teams version, as well as letting users schedule video calls with co-workers.

Microsoft will also make Teams available for free to employees in the UK’s National Health Service. Microsoft declined to provide details of the duration of the offer, while an NHS Digital blog post states only that it is in place for a “limited time period.”

RingCentral

The unified communications software vendor is offering its RingCentral Office product — which includes video meetings, phone calls and instant messaging — for free to healthcare providers, K-12 schools and nonprofit organizations. The offer is applicable to new customers, who can apply here.

Slack

Slack pledged to make the paid version of its chat app freely available to anyone directly supporting COVID-19 response.

CEO Stewart Butterfield stated in a tweet on March 16:

If you’re working on #COVID19 research, response, or mitigation and @slackhq can help in any way, email covid@slack.com. Free upgrades to paid plans, setting up a consultation for remote collaboration best practices: we got you. Even socially distant, we’re all in this together.

Stack Overflow

Stack Overflow, known for its developer discussion forum, also has a paid product for private teams within organizations. The Basic tier of Stack Overflow Teams, which typically costs $5 per user each month, is available for free for unlimited users until June.

StarLeaf

StarLeaf announced a new free tier for its videoconferencing service. The free plan caps the number of users per call at 20, sets the time limit for calls at 45 minutes (compared to 100 participants plus 1,000 viewers with no time limit for the paid option), and offers fewer service, support and administration features. Pricing for the paid plan is available upon request.

Taskade

The Y-Combinator-backed startup will offer the Pro version of its collaboration and work management platform free for six months. 

Wrike

Wrike announced that it is offering the Professional Edition of its team work management tool for free for six months. The Professional Edition, which normally costs $10/user/month, supports up to 15 team members.

Zoho

Zoho has made one of its app collections available for free until July 1. The Remotely suite of cloud apps includes a videoconferencing tool, shared documents and its Cliq team chat tool. More than 5,000 companies have been using Remotely since its launch two weeks ago, Zoho said.

Zoho has also launched what it calls its “Small Business Emergency Subscription Assistance Program.” The offer allows existing customers with up to 25 employees to apply for free access to any of Zoho’s applications that they currently use. The offer — which is capped at 20,000 customers — is open for the next three months. You can find more information on the offer, including how to apply, here.

Zoom

Zoom announced that its videoconferencing app is available for free to K-12 schools in the U.S., according to Forbes.

Free tools spur long-term adoption?

Angela Ashenden, principal analyst at CCS Insight, said the decision to offer short-term discounts could spur longer-term adoption of remote working tools.  But it could also raise questions about whether they’re taking advantage of the outbreak.

"While all these companies will argue that they are simply doing their bit to support people who are, either by choice or necessity, now having to work remotely, there will inevitably be suspicion and accusations that they are capitalizing on this difficult climate to promote their own solutions,” she said. 

“By providing additional features or free trials for a limited time, they can meet the spike in demand without actually cashing in [in] monetary terms, but of course they will be hoping that it means those users will see the benefit and opportunities that come from using their tools, and continue using them longer term — likely through a paid license,” she said. 

The rise in demand shows the shifting business perceptions toward remote working in general, she added.

“The sustained nature of the outbreak will mean that organizations that might otherwise have been quite averse to the prospect of allowing employees to work remotely will now be forced to experience it,” Ashenden said. 

“The question is whether this leads to changes in mindset in the longer term. For employees themselves, many will now be learning how to be productive when working from home, and how to collaborate with colleagues effectively outside of the office. I think we’ll see the issue of poor connectivity cropping up as well as more people spend more time on conference calls.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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