The Download guide to the best communications software
While mobile apps and Internet browsers have taken over a lot of communication duties that used to be handled by separate software, there are still good reasons to download additional programs, whether it's email, video conferencing, chat messaging, or making a phone call. Let's show you what to look for when shopping for communication software.
Windows and Mac communications software FAQ
- Are the free options good enough?
Take email, for example. If Gmail is your default email provider, then you can access it through a browser like Google Chrome ( Android, iOS, Windows, Mac)or Mozilla Firefox (Android, iOS, Windows, Mac). Otherwise, both Windows and Macs have free email clients designed by Microsoft and Apple. They are simply Windows Mail and Apple Mail, respectively, and they're both reliable for basic email duties.
But if you require something more sophisticated, there's always Microsoft Outlook. (Outlook Express has become Windows Mail.) Outlook is available as a part of Microsoft Office Home & Business 2016 for $230, by itself for $110, or as a part of an Office 365 subscription ( Windows, Mac) that starts at $7 a month or $70 a year.
- What does premium VoIP get you?
Meanwhile, we have VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). As its name implies, VoIP lets you make phone calls using the Internet and a microphone connected to or built into your computer. Microphones are built into pretty much every laptop on the market these days, but a desktop computer user will probably need to buy one separately.
For both Windows and Mac, Skype ( Windows, Mac, iOS, Android) arguably provides the best overall package and supports a wide variety of devices. It doesn't require extra hardware (other than a mic), and it supports video conferencing,, SMS messages, and group calls, among other things. You can find other services that have some of these things, but Skype combines a large number of them into one easy-to-use client, for $5 a month. Alternatively, you can sign up for something like Ooma, where you pay once for a device, and the service itself is free.
- What other video and voice chat options are there?
If you just need voice chat, then Mumble (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android) is a great choice, though it can be tricky to set up for non-technical users. It's free, encrypted, and open-source. If you don't mind using something proprietary that connects users via a central company server, Slack (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android is more approachable.
Lastly, Mac users can get Messages and FaceTime right on their computers. No iPhone or subscription required. Just click the blue conversation bubble in the Dock and log in with your Apple ID to get started. This ID is the same one you use for iCloud and the iTunes App Store.
The best communications software for Windows and Macs