Skype 2 Beta review
Skype is primarily responsible for bringing Voice-over-IP to the masses. But being first to market doesn’t always give you supremacy, and Skype has accumulated numerous competitors. Although the company now has eBay’s financial muscle behind it, it has Google Talk to contend with, Yahoo! Messenger, plus the increasing interest in SIP – including Gizmo, which interoperates with both SIP and Jabber, the open IM standard.
So Skype is fighting back with version 2 of its software, and its secret weapon will be video. This is hardly new to the Web, though. CU-SeeMe existed long before broadband made live video viable, way back in 1994, and there have been numerous successors, including NetMeeting and even Amstrad’s E3 [email protected] But Skype has the kind of momentum that no predecessor could even dream of. If any company can take video calling to the mainstream, Skype can.
The video capabilities work with most webcams, although you’ll need Windows XP to use them. On startup, the Skype software detects your webcam and gives you the option to test it. You can also configure settings for how Skype handles your video connection, and your webcam’s own settings. Although your recipients need Skype 2 to receive video, they have full control over whether to use visuals for any particular call.
We successfully placed calls to the Netherlands and the US. The video was somewhat jerky, despite our fast broadband connection, but certainly a leap over the modem-based days of yore. The application crashed quite regularly and wouldn’t work at all on one of our test PCs. That’s to be expected on a beta version, but if Skype wants to take the mainstream it will need to be rock-solid.
Video isn’t the only enhancement with Skype 2. The new application also allegedly improves audio quality, although we found this too subtle to discern during testing. It’s also now possible to group contact lists under different headings, which is far from earth-shattering. Most IM apps have had this ability for years. You can now add a ‘mood’ information to your profile too, which will appear next to your name in other people’s contact lists to tell them how you’re feeling. Again, this isn’t a massive innovation, being rather reminiscent of the way people already use their MSN names. More useful is the local time display, which lets you know what time it is for your contacts – so you don’t try to call them in the middle of the night.
Another new feature intended to coincide with Skype 2 is the ability to put buttons on your web page that display your current Skype status. However, we only found buttons available that allowed you to place calls and check the profile, not dynamic ones.
Current Skype users won’t find the new version particularly daunting to get to grips with; the interface has scarcely changed, with features in the same place as version 1. If it weren’t for the video calling, this would feel like a dot release. But now that broadband is widespread, and the faster second generation on its way, the time does seem ripe for video calling. The biggest challenge for Skype 2 is getting people to use the video features in the first place. Considering how many people use Skype for free phone calls to distant relatives, though, there’s a good chance that the visual additions will be welcomed. What could be better than the grandparents in Canada actually seeing Little Johnny when you place your regular monthly Skype call? And considering the software is still free, it’s a waste not to give it a try.