Sunday, March 12, 2006


Skype is well established with more than 75 million registered users, 3-10 million of whom are online at any one time, so a review of the software certainly seems overdue. I could have tried it in 2003 when 12 days after launch they hit the 160,000 download mark. I could have installed it in 2004 when a friend’s company invested in Skype. Or, I could have investigated the Skype hype in 2005 when another friend’s company purchased Skype for $2.6 billion. But, I didn’t. As much as I like to pretend to be on the cutting edge of technology, it was only on Friday that I placed my first Skype call.

Not having any overseas friends, I lacked a compelling reason to explore internet telephony. I haven’t gotten any more popular, but I do have partners I would like to conference call, and one of those partners is a world traveler. Skype meets my budgetary requirements as it is completely free and it quality is quite remarkable.

Skype is cross-platform (Mac, PC, Linux, Pocket PC) and it is very easy to set up. Just run the installer, create a Skype login and plug in a headset. For laptop users, the last step is very simple: put the microphone mini-plug in the line-in jack and the speaker mini-plug in the line-out or headphone jack. Those with desktops might have to open an access door in the front or find the connections in the back.

Alternately, you can also take the approach I followed and add a USB headset. This creates a second audio device to assign to certain applications. With my current set-up, all audio is played through my speakers (or headphones when I plug them in). The ringing sound of an incoming Skype call also goes through the main audio system, but when I establish a Skype connection my headset handles the audio for the call while all other sounds continue to route through my soundcard and speakers.

Skype lets you call computer-to-computer for free and the application is self-configuring. I experienced no glitches or complexities running the installer on my home PC. When talking, it is full duplex (parties can talk at the same time) and it supports conference calls of at least 5 people. To place a call, add the Skpye name of the party you want to reach to your phone book and click the green button, the same one you use to accept a call. Should you need them, Skype's help materials are excellent.

Skype is testing a new free feature for video calls, and for a small fee you can take advantage of premium services. They offer: SkypeOut, the ability to call any land or cell phone number with Skype for a per minute charge; SkypeIn, your own phone number that can be called from any traditional phone; and, voice mail, currently free with the purchase of a SkypeIn number. Like all smart telco’s, they also sell ringtones but they haven’t cut any deals with major labels yet.

I haven’t tried the premium services but I can’t encourage you strongly enough to download Skype if you want to save on your long distance or conference call bills. Suggest that friends, family and colleagues do the same, or buy some SkypeOut minutes, and have fun talking while saving money.