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The Skype is Falling, The Skype is Falling!

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Episode 59
April 28th, 2006

Skype is a Voice over IP (VoIP) telephone service that promotes itself using the tag line: "With Skype you can talk to anyone, anywhere for free." That's a big promise, but after using Skype for the past few months, I am happy to report that it's true. Although the service is free, it does require computers with broadband Internet access-Mac, Windows, Pocket PC, or Linux-at both ends of the conversation, and both of those computers require audio input and output devices (e.g. a microphone and a speaker) in addition to the free Skype client software.

NOTE: You might want to invest in an inexpensive USB headset with headphones and a boom microphone. The Skype experience is a whole lot better when you use one. I picked up mine, made by Plantronics, for around $30 at Fry's.

Once you fulfill those requirements you can talk to anyone, anywhere without paying a dime (assuming they too have the free Skype client software). Just fire up your copy of Skype, type in their Skype name, and click the Call button as shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Type someone's Skype "handle" (Your_Name_Here), click the Call button, and talk as long as you like for free.

Instead of typing you can use Skype's Contacts list-just select the person you want to call and then click the Call button.

You have to admit, talking to someone on the other side of the world for free is pretty cool. And the voice quality, while not always perfect, is usually quite good-better than cell phone calls most of the time.

Free calls are sweet, but Skype offers a lot more than just free calling if you're willing to spend a few bucks. For example, if you want to call traditional landline or cell phones, you can as long as you subscribe to the SkypeOut service. There's no contract and no monthly bill-merely purchase some SkypeOut credit and start dialing. The price of SkypeOut credits is around 2 cents a minute for many locations and slightly more (3 or 4 cents a minute) for the rest. If you're interested, you'll find a complete list of prices here: http://www.skype.org/products/skypeout/rates/all_rates.html.

Or, if you want to receive calls from traditional landline or cell phones, you can subscribe to the SkypeIn service, currently priced at $12 for three months or $38 for a full year. The cool thing about this is that you can pick your own area code. So if all of your clients are in New York City but you are in Salt Lake City, you can choose a phone number with a 212 prefix so calling you will be a local call for your clients.

Another nice option is Skype Voicemail, an add-on that will run you $6 for three months or $20 for a year. But guess what? When you subscribe to SkypeIn you get Voicemail free. What a deal!

Another useful feature (and one we use all the time for our MacNotables podcasts) is conference calling. Skype conference calling feature lets you talk to as many as four people at once.

Skype is also a full-blown chat client, so you can send your Skype buddies IMs (Instant Messages) in addition to talking to them if you so desire.

These days I use Skype for most of my outbound long-distance calling. I'm not sure how much money I save but it has to be at least twenty or thirty bucks a month. And I now have a SkypeIn phone number -- (408) 627-7577 -- for my consulting business. Notice that my Skype phone number is in area code 408 (the Silicon Valley/San Jose area and the same area code Apple uses), rather than the local area code here in Austin, Texas (512).

You should know that Skype warns its users that it is not a telephony replacement service and cannot be used for emergency dialing (911). Also, every so often call quality is sub-normal. Not to mention that it won't work if your Internet connection goes down. So don't give up your landline just yet. But if you want to save a few bucks a month or talk longer for less, you'll probably like Skype.

And that's all he wrote...

Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus has been a Macintosh user for a long, long time and has written 49 computer books including Mac OS X Tiger For Dummies and GarageBand for Dummies. He also offers expert technical help and training to Mac users, in real time and at reasonable prices, via telephone, e-mail, and/or unique Internet-enabled remote control software. For more information on Bob and his services, visit www.boblevitus.com.

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