Skype is one of the most appreciated VoIP programs that distinguished itself because of the simple instant messaging function and great quality PC-to-PC voice and video calls it provides, as a result being mostly used for these purposes. But the power that Skype holds within is a lot more complex because it’s not just an application, but also a full set of services and besides the free ones mentioned above it also offers PC-to-landline phones/mobile phones calls at astonishingly affordable prices.
Installation & Requirements
The first window that appears during the installation prompts us if we want to install the Skype Click to Call plug-in. This independent and optional feature automatically detects and highlights phone numbers on web pages and allows us to call these numbers by simply clicking on them. Keep in mind that this is not an adware feature, however most of the calls are not free and you will need Skype credit or subscription to make them. To conclude, if you don’t find this plug-in useful you might as well uncheck it or remove it later.
The rest of the installation poses no additional issues and it completes in less than a minute. You only have to create a Skype account and you are ready to go!
One of the best things about Skype is that it is a cross-platform app and it works on the following operating systems:
Windows: XP, Vista and 7 (both 32 and 64-bit versions) with recommended system requirements consisting of 1 GHz processor, 256 MB RAM and DirectX 9.0 or above.
Mac: OS X v 10.5 “Leopard”, OS X v 10.6 “Snow Leopard” with recommended system requirements consisting of 1 GHz Intel processor (Core 2 Duo), 1 GB RAM and the latest version of QuickTime.
Linux: Ubuntu 8.10+ (32 and 64-bit), Debian Lenny, Fedora 10+, OpenSUSE 11+ and Dynamic Static with recommended system requirements consisting of 1GHz processor, 256 MB RAM and the following additional software required: Qt 4.4.0, D-Bus 1.0.0, libasound 1.0.18, Pulse Audio 0.9.16 (recommended), BlueZ 4.0.0 (recommended).
Concerning mobile devices Skype has great support for them too, currently being compatible with iOS, Android, Blackberry, Symbian and Windows mobile phones.
Skype’s interface is just another asset that led Skype to become as popular as it is these days. The layout is clean white with a sky-blue frame that sets apart blocks with different functions and as a result it allows anyone to get used to it really fast and without much effort. The top menu gives us a quick way to tweak Skype to our liking with ease in spite of the fact that it holds a considerably large number of settings. The left sidebar is split in three: the top small block provides options to set our status to Online, Away, Do Not Disturb, Invisible and Offline that will accordingly block or unblock some of Skype’s features such as sounds, notifications and calls. The second part of the sidebar displays our contact list with current status and detailed information for each person. Options for adding contacts and organizing them into groups are also present below the contact list and even lower is the Call Phones function that shows a virtual phone keypad and links to buy Skype credit or subscriptions when clicked. The bottom green block can be classified as adware because it shows some of Skype’s commercial features and will open a webpage towards them as soon as you click on it. However it might be a good way to find out something new about Skype that you might find useful or you can press the “X” to close it anytime.
The main content area shows details for the currently selected contact, including avatar picture,online status and personal message within a small frame that you can minimize if you feel it’s taking too much space. The rest of the main content area is the place where you can send and receive instant messages or see the contact’s webcam feed if you are video chatting, with only three buttons present on the top that allow us to call the contact, create a chat conference/share files or perform quick adjustments to our settings for microphone, speaker, webcam, computer and Internet connection.
The ironic aspect of Skype’s interface is that it looks bare when you first lay eyes on it but as you start browsing through its features you realize it’s exactly the opposite. This is actually a good thing because it has that “user-friendliness” which drives even beginner users to get their hands on all the goodies of Skype without having a headache first.
- Clean and straightforward interface.
- A large number of features and settings.
- Provides both free and paid audio and video call services, the latter category having multiple pricing plans to choose from.
- Facebook integration.
- Recommended system requirements are a bit high, especially for older computers and a range of notebooks and netbooks.
- The program lacks the option to set your status to “invisible” for specific contacts.
Skype is loved by millions of users around the world but that doesn’t make it the only good VoIP application out there and it’s always good to know our alternatives.
oVoo is a similar program that boasts with many features and services found within Skype. This program’s highlight is that it allows oVoo users to video chat on a web browser with people that don’t have oVoo installed. oVoo is compatible with Windows operating systems, Mac OS X and mobile devices based on Android and iOS.
Voxox is another VoIP client that also offers free calls between VOXOX users and the option to import contacts from many other popular IM applications and social networks, allowing you to chat with all of them straight from its interface. As expected, Voxox has paid call services, but versions of the program are available only for Windows, Mac and iPhone, unlike Skype that also supports a number of Linux versions and Android-based mobile devices.
Sometimes good things do come in small packages and such is the case of Tinychat a free web-based video chatting and conferencing service that obviously has the advantage of being compatible with any OS and device, requiring only an Internet connection, a Facebook or Tinychat account and a web browser to use it.
Over the years Skype constantly surprised its users with new and exciting capabilities, gaining the hearts of more and more people across the world. It still needs some improvements but the vast amount of free features, affordable call services, support for multiple platforms and the neat interface combined altogether made Skype an addictive habit for the masses.