SKYPE – Software you should know about

With my upcoming trips to New Zealand, I’ve developed an interest in how I might communicate between here (Seattle) and there (Christchurch) economically. I’d heard about Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) sometime ago but back then it had a bad rap. Poor sound quality, drops, stuttering, delays, echos. All of the sorts of problems you might imagine when your voice is broken up onto many discrete packets and each sent out over the Internet to all find their independent paths to the destination computer. Well, apparently the technology has gotten a lot better in the last year or two.

I’m going to tell you about a VoIP program named Skype which is given away for free in its basic form. Its basic form allows any two people with Skype, a computer, and a high-speed Internet connection to communicate with each other free from anywhere in the world. Yes, free – utterly and completely free.

Now, you might wonder how they make any money doing this. Well, these are idealistic people but they do have some money making options which, if you add them onto the basic Skype, will cost you a bit. These are called SkypeIn and SkypeOut.

So, what do you need? A high-speed Internet connection (I suspect it will work with slow-speed modems as well but I doubt the quality would be as good), a computer, a set of head-phones and a microphone – and, of course, the Skype software.

You can download Skype here:

Installing it is dead easy. The only problems and confusion I ran into had to do with getting it to talk to my sound card. Basically, you have to make Skype and Windows agree on which Sound Device they are sharing and you’ll need to make sure that Windows is ‘listening’ to your microphone.

You can find your Windows settings at Control Panel > Sounds and Audio Devices.

You can find Skype’s settings at Skype > Tools > Options.

You can enable the microphone by double-clicking the tiny speaker at the lower right of your Windows screen and then choosing Options > Properties > Recording and then make sure that the microphone is checked so it is ‘on’.

You mileage may vary if you are running a different version of Windows but it should be basically the same. FYI, I’m running Microsoft Server 2003 here.

I’ve got the Skype program up and running now and it shows 4,059,740 users on-line. Sound like a lot of folks figured this out before I got here, eh?

So, everyone on Skype has a handle or a name. Mine is ‘gallymon’. Yours can be whatever you want. The program has a lot of fun stuff you can do like setup a profile and a photo of yourself. But, you can figure all of that out yourself.

I’ve talked to Eugene, Oregon and Mumbai, India so far and the signal and clarity has been fine. I’m pretty confident that this is going to work for my wife and I when I’m down in New Zealand this November, December and January.

So, SkypeIn and SkypeOut. They charge for these. What do they bring to the party?

Well, SkypeIn means that people on real physical phones can call you on Skype. That also means that you’ll need a phone number. You can sign up for SkypeIn for $38 a year and that gets you a real phone number. And you can decide where it is local to. Want a local number in Paris? $38. Want a local number in Rio? $38. Me, I opted for one in the 360 area code where I live. That way all my local friends can just call the number toll free and, if I’m on-line and on-Skype, they’ll connect to me on my computer – where ever I am in the world. And, the best is, that if I’m not on-line and on-Skype, it takes VoiceMail for me for no extra charge. Next time I log on, my messages will be waiting.

SkypeOut is for going the other way. If you are on Skype and you want to call out to a physical phone, this is what you will need. I haven’t signed up for this so I don’t know the ins and outs of it nor the costs. You’ll have to noodle all of that out from their web site at www.skype.com

Skype does a few other things that are pretty cool. First off, it does instant messaging which meas that if you don’t want to talk, you can simply type messages back and forth real-time. Might be fun if you are too busy to talk but you can handle the bandwidth requirements of typing something inane every few minutes just to keep up a slow banter.

Skype also supports transmitting and receiving files while you are connected to someone. And, and this is big, it allows you to each have a webcam and it’ll fire your moment to moment pictures back and forth as well.

And then it support conference calls also. I don’t know if there’s an upper limit on how many folk can join in on a call though.

And, finally, it does something with SMS messages like folks send back and forth on cell phones. I couldn’t tell you just what though.

Have you got a long lost college friend that’s moved to Japan? Well, you can stay in touch daily now for free. Do you work at a computer all day and your friends do as well? Well, you can establish a group on Skype and all chit chat back and forth as the mood strikes you. Have a team working on a technical project that is geographically spread-out? You can maintain a moment to moment capability to speak to any of them as the need arises. Want to move some files from here to there? Well, you know what I’m going to say.

That’s it. Skype. If you fire it up and you’re jumping up and down to try it out and you’ve suddenly realized that you are the geekiest of all of your friends so that none of them will be up for trying it out with you, well, drop me a call at ‘gallymon’. I’ve got my headphones on most evenings.

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