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Member since:31.10.2006

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Sykpe - can 20 mio users be wrong?

Quote-end
28.11.2006

Advantages:
great quality, video calls possible, regular updates

Disadvantages:
credit can only be bought in 10 Pound - steps

Recommendable Yes:

42 Ciao members have rated this review on average: very helpful See ratings
exceptional by (32%):
  1. neeraum31
  2. Chuchy
  3. damsuk
and 19 other members
very helpful by (68%):
  1. JOE.B
  2. mr_mlk
  3. rosycn1979
and 43 other members

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Skype - a word which is currently resounding throughout the land. Even more so, since Ebay has bought it up. But what exactly is Skype and is it really that great?

I've been using Skype for a long time now and gave it a first try around 2004, when I was still connected to the internet via my good old 56k modem. Since I've been in a distance relationship - now kind of a "part-time distance relationship" Skype came really handy to me and I'm using it now every evening when I'm apart from my partner for at least three hours in its latest version 3.0 (beta).

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What is Skype?
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Skype is a free software, which enables you to talk for free to other Skype users after you've installed the application. In professional circles it comes under the name "soft phone". It is probably one of the most popular - if not the most popular - application in this field. Furthermore, Skype provides other functions, such as a chat and phone calls to landlines and mobiles phones (which you are charged for), but more about that in the next section.
A huge advantage of Skype is, that computers behind firewalls and/or routers can use it without any problems. This is due to the technology Skype is using (peer 2 peer, firewall and NAT-traversal) - but I don't want to bore you with this stuff. If you're interested in computers and the technologies behind, the functioning of Skype is described on the company's website.


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Features
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As already mentioned, Skype provides a big amount of different features and services. The following information is partly only related to the Windows version.


~~~free features~~~

Most people use and always will use Skype for the free internal calls between Skype users. Therefore, both users have to have installed and started Skype. Also conferences between up to 100 participants are possible.

Since version 2 it is also possible to make video calls. People with long distance relationships - or with relatives living far away - probably have been as happy about that as I was. The video screen can be shown in three different sizes. Firstly in the Skype window, secondly as a separate and slightly bigger window and finally thirdly in full screen mode. If you want to see yourself during the call, you can do that in a small "window in the window" on the bottom left, but it is also possible to hide it.

Apart from that Skype offers an integrated chat, which is similar to the well-known instant messengers like ICQ or MSN. Advantage Skype: Up to 100 persons can be invited into the chat. The chat history can be saved automatically and what I especially like about the chat are the cute smilies.
Furthermore it is possible to transfer every kind of files.

So far, so good. But what can you do, if you want to talk to somebody who doesn't have a computer, internet or just Skype?


~~~premium services ~~~

For that purpose, Skype out does exist. With Skype out worldwide phonecall for cheap fares are possible - to landlines as well as to mobile phones. The price per minute starts at 0.012 GBP excluding VAT (makes GBP 0.014 including VAT) for calls to landlines in Great Britain and most other destinations in Europe, such as Germany, Italy, Spain - but also Russia, Korea or the USA. More expensive destinations would for example be the United Arab Emirates (GBP 0.153 per minute + VAT), the Ukraine (GBP 0.076 + VAT) or Kazakhstan (GBP 0.099 + VAT). A full list with all fees can be found on the Skype-website.

Calls to mobile networks usually are more expensive. In the United Kingdom you pay 0.144 GBP/minute + VAT for calls to all providers. Also possible from the UK: Calling shared-cost numbers, such as 0551, 0560 or 0871. The price depends on the number which is called and a list is also found on the Skype website. Last but not least: It's also possible to phone "Toll-Free" numbers on Skype - calls to such numbers of course are absolutely free.

The credit can only be bought in packets of 10 Pounds (20 Pounds, 30 Pounds…) and is valid for 180 days. The validity is increased every time you buy new credit or make a phone call via Skype out.

Another feature of Skype is Skype-in. With this service you can buy up to 10 telephone numbers, on which people can call you. The calls you answer via Skype and a 12 months subscription 30 EUR, which should be about 22 GBP + VAT. (I couldn't find the price in Pounds anywhere on the website). If you only want to subscribe for three months, the price is 10 EUR + VAT.
But what's the advantage of that? You can buy numbers from different countries (at the moment from the USA, the UK, Brazil, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Poland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland). If you have - for example - a lot of friends in the USA who want to call you on one of those numbers it makes sense to get a number from the USA. Callers then only pay - even if you are in the UK or elsewhere on the world - only the local rate. On top you get a free subscription for…

…Skype voicemail. This service can also be booked separately (5 EUR for three months, 15 EUR for one year - again I couldn't find the prices in GBP). Skype voicemail is in short words the answer machine for Skype.

You also can divert calls to another phone number and in the latest versions of Skype it is possible to send text messages to mobile phones. SMS to phones in the UK cost GBP 0.056 + VAT per message (makes GBP 0.064 incl. VAT).


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What do I need to use Skype?
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~~~Operating System~~~

Skype is available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. Sounds great, doesn't it? BUT… Unfortunately, the new versions are only available for windows. While the latest version there is V 3.0 (beta) at the moment, the most modern version available for Linux is only 1.2.0.18 (1.3 is available as beta version). And with this old version video calls are still a dream.
Things are a bit better for Mac OS now, for a few weeks Skype 2.0 has been available for Mac's as well, which finally enables you to do video calls if you ae not using MS WIndows.
But to use all services and functions and to get the latest versions you will still have to use Windows XP, if you only want to make calls and don't need phone calls then you can use Windows 2000 or even Windows 98 or ME.


~~~and apart from that?~~~

Of course an internet connection. If you want to make phone calls with it you should even have a broadband connection, DSL and cable are both fine.
Microphone and speakers - of course, you want to hear and be heard  It's advisable to use a headset.
A webcam in case you want to make video calls.
The rest - you don't really have to care about it, if your computer if Windows XP is running on your system, because then your computer should fulfil all requirements anyway. But just in case: A 300MHz processor, 128 MB RAM and 15 MB free space on the hard disk are needed.

And apart from that you obviously need Skype. Where do you get it and how is it installed? Read on!

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Installation (for Windows)
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The installation is really simple. From the Skype website you download the setup file for Skype (the size is about 10 MB). A double click and the easy understandable installation process is starting. After you've accepted the user agreement and chosen the installation path the installation starts. It takes less than a minute until Skype is ready to use.

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Register on Skype
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Before you really can start, you first have to create a user accound. This can be done in the Skype start screen. You have to put in your real name, your Skype nick name, which has to be between 6 and 32 characters and of course has to be unique as well. Your email address (it should be a valid one as this is the one you get your password send to in the unlikely case that you forget it), country, region and town - and that's it. Further information about yourself you can add to your profile later on.

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Using Skype
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The use of Skype is simple and intuitive; the program itself very clear. Below the menu there are some buttons for a few features (add contact, search, call phones, chat…), and below that the access onto three tabs is possible. With these tabs you can look at three different windows - you own contacts, a dial pad (you'd only use for Skype-out anyway) and the history where all calls (also unsuccessful or received ones), chats, sent and received files etc. are listed.

Calls are made from the main windows. Select the user name you want to call, click onto the big, green, round button on the bottom of Skype - and talk. Alternatively, you can make a call just through a double click onto the Skype name.

If you want to use the premium services you first have to buy credits, which is possible directly out of the application. Payment is possible through PayPal, credit card (Visa and Mastercard), debit card (Solo, Switch), Moneybookers, regular bank transfer, Ucash or JCB Credit card. My experience says that the money - I've always paid via PayPal - is booked onto your Skype account very quickly.
Absolute disadvantage: You always have to buy 10 EUR or 10 Pounds, it's not possible to buy smaller amounts. And the credit expires after 180 days of not making a paid call, which to me is an absolute nuisance. You have paid for it, so how can it expire?

By the way - keep your eyes open, sometimes Skype gives away free credit, as they did this autumn. Every week you could click on a banner to get 20 free Skype minutes. Also they offer deals from time to time where you pay 10 Pounds and get another 5 on top.

In the options many settings are possible. Sound effects can be changed (the modern ones are absolutely horrible, I prefer the classic ones), you can choose an avatar or add a comment which is visible for all your contacts.

For any problems that might appear Skype provides a detailed help and FAQ on their website, all in English.
To test the headset and connection you can call a "test-user" and record your message. It's played back to you and if you hear it you know that everything is working fine.

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Quality
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The sound quality is, in my opinion, very, very good. Only on the odd occasion a slight hissing is disturbing the call and echoes are rare. The delay is minimal and phone calls can be made in a really good quality (after Skype had some problems with that in the beginning). In the call window you can have a look at the technical call info (you can enable that in your options). It tells you how big the delay is (in ms), how much data is lost etc.
Also the quality of landline calls is rather good; I did it several times from England to Germany and couldn't spot much of a difference to ordinary landline - landline calls.

The application is running stable, only the Internet Explorer crashes if you want to have a glance at a long chat history. But as the history is saved in html format, you can open it with every browser and Opera or Firefox open the file without any problems.

Software updates are done regularly, if you wish then the application informs you about available updates or even installs them directly. If you want to test a beta version (if available) you'd have to download it from the Skype website, as the program doesn't inform you about the availability of those.

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Security
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An important point with applications that have access to the internet is always the security. Therefore, some information about that are following.

Transmission of phone calls and chats is done decrypted. (For the interested: Encryption is done with AES-256 and transmission with 1024-Bit RSA). Also calls to landlines are encrypted - as far as possible. Meaning: Encrypted transmission takes place up to the gateways internet/landline. Skype's source code is not open source, so nobody can control whether the information Skype is giving is correct, but in 2005 the security has been confirmed by a encryption expert.

Principally, this way of encryption is secure and enough, related to today's possibilities of computers. Phone calls via Skype are, in my opinion, even more secure than pure landline calls - considering how easy they can be listened in…

Viruses are of course always a problem, but if you use Skype as it's intended to be used there is not much chance of getting one. But, as always, you have to be careful with receiving files. Spyware etc.are certainly not installed with Skype.

The email address you type in during the registration process is decrypted before it's transferred to the server. It's also not visible for other users - even though they can search for your email address in the Skype directory if they know it.

Apart from that you should consider the well-known rules: Don't choose a too easy password, keep it secretly, don't publish too private data about yourself in your public profile etc.

Not necessarily belonging to "security" but to privacy is the following: It is possible to block certain calls or - to say it differently - to only allow contacts of your own contact list to contact you. Alternatively, you can block single users. Furthermore, every contact wanting to see your contact details and online status has to get your permission to do so. That means concrete: If user A wants to include user B into his contact list he first has to send him a request. User B sees this one as a separate window, where they can chose if they agree to it or not. If user B does not, he still appears in user A's list, but always as offline.

Moreover, you can choose your online status - do you want to appear online? Or even in "Skype-Me-Mode" where really everybody can contact you? Or do you prefer the invisible mode, where everybody, even your contacts, always see your status as offline?

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Conclusion
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Skype is absolutely recommendable. The quality is better than for any other messenger I've ever tried, it's free and stable - I couldn't wish for anything else. Skype is ideal for people with a lot of friends and family living further away. But it also can be used for completely different purposes. Why not try to improve your knowledge or fluency in a foreign language? Just talk to natives for free!
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Comments about this review »

neeraum31 14.12.2006 18:49

Seems like a great idea, really excellent review :-)

Chuchy 10.12.2006 14:57

Very informative review. I've known about skype for a while but I never looked into it in this sort of detail. Now I know everything I need to know. I think for the time being I'll stay with my cheap international calls, but in the future no doubt I will be using it. Thanks for the info.

damsuk 08.12.2006 20:48

excellent review

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Type Computers & Electronics
Domain Extension .com

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This review of Skype.com has been rated:

"exceptional" by (32%):

  1. neeraum31
  2. Chuchy
  3. damsuk

and 19 other members

"very helpful" by (68%):

  1. JOE.B
  2. mr_mlk
  3. rosycn1979

and 43 other members

The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.



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