Skype's VoIP calling is by now well known to most Mac users, and the ability to make computer-to-computer calls anywhere in the world for free is already extremely popular to international users. Skype's official version on the Mac is 2.8 and is still a bit behind its Windows counterpart (Skype 5 for Windows). But a beta release today brings the software to version 5.0 on the Mac, and the Skype team has added some great new features to get excited about.
Sporting a familiar, more iTunes-like interface, Skype makes it easy to search through contacts and communicate with people via chat client, a USB or Bluetooth handset, or video calls. But new features in this latest beta add more flexibility and make the program even easier to use.
All the elements of the program are now unified in one window, doing away with the chaotic multiwindow interface. They've added full integration with your Mac Address Book, making it a lot easier to find and use existing contacts without the need for a separate contact list. A new call control bar now pops up when you receive calls or other communications that floats above browser pages or other programs so you can see who's calling at a glance. A new Dial Pad gives you an easy way to initiate calls or chat with a contact quickly.
But perhaps the biggest change is the ability to to make group video calls by connecting to one person then adding contacts for a multiwindow video chat session. It's important to note that everyone participating in a group video call needs to be running the latest Skype 5 beta for Mac or Windows. Skype also points out that the group video-calling feature is still a work in progress.
Skype still requires that you pay for calls to landline and mobile phones, which you can sign up for with either pay-as-you-go or subscription-based packages. But if you want an easy way to communicate with people around the world for free, Skype's computer-to-computer telephone and video calls are still incredibly convenient, and the added features in this beta make the deal even sweeter.
Though beta software can sometimes be risky, we experienced no issues with Skype 5 beta on our test machines. Still, it's a good practice to back up your data before experimenting with even the most trusted beta software.