Slash your long-distance bills

Calling international and long-distance friends over the Internet saves you cash. Skype's top-rated Windows app keeps your audio and video calls intact.

In some ways, Skype's latest offering takes a step back, but in many, it's a jump forward. In version 4.0, Skype's VoIP app for text, audio, and video calls refocuses on Skype's core competency (and most formidable challenge) of delivering high-quality audio and video calls over the Internet. A new sound engine and bandwidth manager helps keep calls clearer and more stable as talkers reach out across the world, using the spectrum of high- and low-end equipment. The improved sound and video quality were notable in our tests.

Many of Skype's secondary features remain in version 4.0, like conference calling with up to 24 people, IM, history-viewing, file-transferring, and games. Yet some users may decry that public chats have been temporarily omitted, IM isn't terribly interactive, and the Skypecast partyline throwback has gotten the kibosh. Others may chafe against the new interface, a larger block that consolidates the classic two-pane look into a single window. Foreseeing this, Skype has made it possible to split them into two. The new organization places contacts and conversation on side-by-side tabs, and that is surely appreciated.

Anyone who's interested in talking for free should give it a try. For international callers, this program is a no-brainer solution for slashing the long-distance bills.

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