Call, chat, and message for free with Skype's basic service

Stay in touch with the world's top peer-to-peer voice over IP solution.

If you go around saying things like "P2P" and "VoIP," even your friends are apt to give you the eyebrow, but say "Skype," and millions of users around the world get the message. Skype means free Skype-to Skype Internet phone calls, video chat and conferencing, IM, and Facebook integration. We tried the latest release of the free version of Skype, which not only lets you yak at other Skype users as long as you want for free but also enables free one-to-one video calls, Instant Messaging, and screen sharing. A Pay As You Go option lets you call non-Skype numbers and pay by the minute, and frequent callers can opt for a Subscription service. Skype is also available in a premium package offering unlimited international calling and enhanced video chat and conferencing. To use Skype, you'll need a microphone and Web cam as well as sound and video capability and a broadband Internet connection.

Skype's installer includes the optional Click-to-Call feature, which lets users call Web sites displaying telephone numbers with a click. We signed in to our existing Skype account, though new users can quickly sign up for a free account, which includes checking your sound and video connections and choosing an (optional) account picture. You can have more than one Skype account. Skype is easy to use, thanks in part to a simple interface that walks users through nearly every step. The first step when using Skype is to "find friends and say hello," which means adding Contacts and creating Groups. Adding a Contact is easy: Click Add Contact, enter the person's email address, phone number, Skype number, and Skype name. Skype's Settings include a Call Quality Guide to help users overcome technical issues with Internet phoning, which can be an adventure.

Skype does a pretty good job with voice calls and even video hookups, but of course quality depends not only on your setup but also the other party's as well as the connection between the two. Given all that, it's a wonder Skype works so well, but it does. If you're not already using Skype, try it and see for yourself why it's so popular.

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