Do much more with VoIP

Skype's popular Windows app helps you place video and audio VoIP calls for free or cheap.

A popular and preeminent VoIP communication client, Skype has been steadily adding the features it had stripped out of a major 4.0 update--like call transferring, Skype Access for Wi-Fi hotspots, accessibility provisions, birthday alerts, and the ability to send a contact to other Skype users. Version 4.2 also claims back-end tweaks to ready the popular VoIP app for high-definition video calls, in conjunction with the user's HD Webcam.

Public chats are still absent in version 4.2; IM still isn't terribly interactive; and the Skypecast party line throwback has gotten the kibosh. Anyone who doesn't like the larger block of interface that consolidates the classic two-pane look into a single window can also split them in two.

In addition to placing audio and video calls to other Skype users, mobile phones, and landlines, Skype is also experimenting with screen sharing. Screen sharing initiates a video call, and uses that technology to broadcast a recording of your screen--either a portion or the full screen--to one other viewer. Screen sharing has some limitations: you can't simultaneously see a video of your buddy and their desktop, and since only one viewer at a time can peep your screen, you can't use it as a free replacement for collaborative Web conferencing. It doesn't help that the picture quality is still choppy and fuzzy, in both partial-screen and full-screen view modes. Make no mistake, though: it's a great feature that we're happy to see added, but we'll be even happier to watch it improve.

Skype's central theme remains cheap calling from the desktop. Anyone who's interested in talking for free from Skype-to-Skype, or cheaper by purchasing Skype credit to call landlines and mobile phones, should give Skype a try. For international callers, this program is a no-brainer solution for slashing long-distance bills.

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