Best answer: Even though Google is making its video conferencing platform Meet free, you'll still technically need a Google account to use it. I say technically, because there is at least one way you can use Meet without an account, which we'll address below.
What is Google Meet?
Google Meet (formerly Hangouts Meet) is part of Google's enterprise-level software offerings known as G Suite. As an enterprise product, G Suite is not a free service; rather, it is a paid service whose fees are based on the number of users in an organization.
While Google is planning on making a version of Meet available for free in direct response to the meteoric rise in popularity of services like Zoom, the version that non-enterprise users will be getting is scaled back in some areas. For example, free Meet sessions will be limited to one-hour increments, and features like dial-in phone numbers and the ability to record meetings will not be available in the free version.
It is worth noting that Zoom also has a free version in addition to its professional/enterprise level tiers. In fact, if you've participated on a Zoom call with friends and family, chances are you were using the free version. Zoom also holds back some of its more premium features for the paid tiers, so this practice is not uncommon.
Why do I need a Google Account?
As noted at the top of this article, you do need a Google Account to start, schedule, or join a Google Meet session. But why?
According to Google, it's for your own good. Unlike some other video conferencing apps, Google Meet is a secure platform that is end-to-end encrypted, and any recordings made of Meet sessions are encrypted within Google Drive.
Google requires that you have an account to utilize its services like Gmail and Drive, and it can't, or won't, risk the encryption and security features of Meet that currently require account access. Now the good news is that many of you already have a Google account, and if you don't, it's free and easy to create one with any existing email address — personal or business. The other nice thing about having a Google account is that you can then create or join a Meet session directly from Gmail or Google Calendar.
This account requirement may provide an extra measure of security, but it could slow the adoption of Google Meet since anyone can create and join a Zoom session without first creating a Zoom account.
Even though in most of its documentation Google says an account is required to use Meet, Ron Amadeo at Ars Technica tweeted that he had found an edge case where those without a Google Account can participate in a Google Meet session.
When can I use Meet, and for how long?
Google announced in a blog post in late April 2020 that it would be rolling out access to the free version of Meet over the following weeks, and that it hopes to have it widely available sometime in May 2020. As of this writing, the free use period is set to run out by the end of September 2020, though it is possible it could be extended if stay at home restrictions and work from home conditions remain in place.
To check if you are eligible to use the free version of Google Meet, or to put your name on the waiting list, visit Google's support page for Meet.