The home stretch: Skype's third 4.0 beta

Skype releases its third, and most likely final, beta before its version 4.0 release. History is here, but where are the other promised features?

Skype logo

Those of you following the progress of Skype's beta series for version 4.0 already know that the seminal VoIP caller has been striving to get people interested in--and even aware of--Skype other features by rearranging its program's interface in time for version 4.0.

On Thursday, Skype released Skype 4.0 beta 3 for Windows, the third--and as far as we know, final--beta in the development series.

Skype 4.0 beta 3

In addition to Internet telephony, Skype wants to make it easier to switch among IM and phone conversations, to place calls to non-Skype users' mobile phones and landlines, and to jump on board its video chats, which, the company admitted, most users either weren't using or didn't know existed.

At each of the three stages, Skype has daubed on more features that build from its very rough first attempt. In version 4.0 beta 3, the ability to scroll and search through your history is the punchiest addition; you can also filter by activity type.

There's also a new download manager for file transfers, a subtle visual "chrome" treatment when you switch into compact view (from the View menu), and a bandwidth manager. To keep Skype stalkers at bay, the company has added the option to report blocked users as abusive. As always, use this feature with care.

Laying it out on the table

While Skype is still accepting feedback to influence the final design, the essentials haven't changed much from the beginning, and the next release will almost assuredly arrive as the final version. Yet, there are still some visual flaws and an empty storefront. Skype's engineers may run out of releases in which to test new functionality.

Skype 4.0 beta 3

Skype users, too, are calling for more visual personalization in the instant messenger, and are calling out against Skype's yanking of Skypcasts, which officially shut down in September 2008.

Beta number three is also missing birthday reminders and public chats, both slated for this release.

As seen from the air, Skype's 4.0 beta is shaping up into a communications tool that will fulfill its mission to streamline its app and make it more engaging on all fronts. Up close, however, the final release of 4.0 will need more cleanup if it's to really redefine how it's used.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.