Much ado about Skype

It used to be that when people asked for your contact information, you just gave out your phone number. Now, you are expected to have a mobile number, an email address and an instant messaging contact too. Often, when you apply for a job, you get asked your Skype ID. We also hear people say they “Skyped” somebody or ask you to talk on Skype. Just what exactly is Skype? How do you Skype someone? How much does it cost?

Skype is free phone software. In its most basic form, Skype provides you with free voice and video calls to other Skype users anywhere in the world where there is an internet connection. Unlike your regular phone line, Skype gives you the ability to see who you are talking to. If you are celebrating the holidays away from home, you can use Skype’s group video calling to bring everyone together. You can also use it for video conferencing with your business associates. Skype permits you to do this for free, cutting telephone cost on overseas charges.

If you are calling computer to computer, Skype is free, even for video calls, and the quality will surprise you! If you have a good Internet connection on both sides of the call, the audio fidelity is very good and the video quality is typically acceptable.

But Skype goes beyond just being a replacement for the conventional land line phone with video capabilities. It also incorporates elements of instant messaging applications. Like most instant messaging applications, you can use it to chat with friends and business contacts. What sets it apart from most instant messaging software is that it allows you to do more than just send messages. With Skype you can send files, share photos and documents while you chat. You can even do screen sharing with a techy friend if you need help with your computer, or if you have something cool on your screen to share with them. Many Boomers are able to use this screen sharing function to have their more tech savvy kids or grand-kids help them with computer issues.

Both free and paid accounts are available on Skype. With a paid account your Skype phone acts more like a real land line phone, allowing you to make and recieve calls from land line or cell phones, and not just computers. There are also long distance plans that are far more reasonable than the best offered by traditional telcos.

Several different rate plans include a pay as you go plan, monthly plans and a unique Skype Credit plan that is perfect for travelers, allowing you to use your Skype plan from public phones. Useful features include the ability to call forward and send SMS messages within Skype.

Boomers should love Skype. Keeping in touch with kids or especially grandkids is probably the best single application for Skype, and as so many kids now have webcam enabled notebook computers, having a face to face chat with your loved ones is now easy and for the most part free!

So what exactly is Skype? Think of it as a telephone that the phone company should have built. It costs you nothing to try, and the benefits –  well in a word, outstanding!

Stop wondering what Skype is all about and join the 23 million Skype users now.

Steve DobbsSteve Dotto is Canada’s most respected geek. For over 15 years, as host and executive producer of Dotto Tech, a nationally syndicated TV show, Steve has entertained and educated millions of Canadians on all aspects of technology. Steve has a passion for understanding the social impact of technology. His DVD Cybersafe with Steve Dotto , teaches parents and caregivers about the opportunities, dangers and challenges of social networking.