Friday, January 19, 2007

Phone calls from your PC with Skype

Voice Over IP (VOIP) is a way to transmit voice communications, like phone conversations, over the Internet. Skype is a Web 2.0 application that uses IP (Internet Protocol) addresses instead of phone numbers and is often used with a headset connected to a PC. There are several providers that have emerged (Vonage is spending a fortune on TV ads), but I have found Skype to be pretty easy to use and full of features.

First, you can make free calls to anyone else on Skype, no matter where they are. I think the calls of excellent quality. Like many Web applications, there is a free level and a subscriber level. For 30 bucks, you can subscribe to Skype and get one year of unlimited calls to any regular phone in the US and Canada, in addition to the Skype to Skype calls.

There are other features that make Skype more than just another telephone system. If you and your friends, family or business contacts are using webcams, you can also make free video calls. Personally, I am not a big fan of Web cams, but they have a place. More significant to me is the Group chat feature. This is basically instant messaging with up to 100 people in a group chat. With Skype’s bookmark function, you can find the dialogue later to sustain a persistent chat.

Another feature I have not tried is Skypecast. This creates a large online conference call with up to100 people. Skypecasts are scheduled to begin and end at a certain time and usually have a certain topic of discussion.

I don’t see Skype as a telephone replacement service and it cannot be used for emergency dialing. There are other Web-based VoIP systems (Gizmo, Google Talk, and Yahoo! Voice among others), but I am enjoying what I get with Skype.

My Skype account is lorenzostork