Skype 5.0 for Windows delivers decent multiparty video calling that remains lacking on the data collaboration side of things, along with new Facebook integration, and simpler call quality troubleshooting tools.
Skype 5.0 for Windows provides new ways to help users
connect, both within the confines of Skype's network and to external contacts.
While a few bugs and limitations detract from the overall experience, Skype 5.0
nonetheless delivers an attractive mix of new features, particularly for
Skype 5.0 delivers a beta of the integrated multiparty
video chat supporting up to 10 concurrent participants, along with a Facebook
integration to connect to the popular social media site's news feeds and
contact profile information. Skype 5.0 includes an number of nice enhancements
to make the application easier to use and troubleshoot during calls.
Skype 5.0 for Windows is available now as a free download from http://www.skype.com
. Additional services like
voicemail, SkypeOut calling to landlines and mobile phones, or international
calling may be purchased a la carte with Skype Credit or through one of Skype's
array of monthly subscription plans.
The new group video calling feature, which is still in beta at this time, can
be used to conference up to 10 parties in the same video call,
provided that each party has upgraded to Skype 5.0. Since Skype 5.0 is only
available for Windows right now, Mac users or anyone using a
Skype-enabled TV or a specialized Skype video appliance will not be able to
join the multiparty video call at this time.
Users can access the Skype multiparty video calling beta for 28 days just by
starting a call. It is unclear at this time what happens after the 28 days,
In the normal view during a multiparty video call, the screen organizes so
remote callers appear higher on screen, with a self portrait at the bottom. Blinking
on-screen indicators that outline an active caller also help show who has the
active microphone at any given time. On the other hand, when selecting dynamic
view, I found that the video of the user with the active microphone will be
given prominence on screen, with the silent participants in smaller boxes down
with the self portrait.
I could add additional participants to an in progress video call in a couple
ways, accessing my contact list either from the contact sidebar on the left
side of the screen or by clicking on the Add People in the toolbar at the
bottom. Attempting to add a user connected with an old version of Skype for
Windows, or using a non-Windows device will yield a message that this user can
not join the video portion of the call.
I could share my screen with the remote caller in a two-party video session by
clicking in the Share button in the toolbar, selecting to share the content of
a full screen (or either screen in a dual monitor setup), or an individual
window, and I could change what I share from a new dialog that appears over the
shared screen or window.
However, I could not share my screen during a multiparty video call, nor could
I share my screen on a two-party video call if, previously, there had been more
people connected to the call. These limitations leave much room for
improvement, assuming Skype has any thoughts of replacing WebEx or LiveMeeting
for online video presentations.
The integration with Facebook delivers the News Feed straight to one the tabs
in Skype's main window, essentially giving me a one-feed reader built straight
into the telephony app. Thumbnails of pictures in the News feed appear, but if
when I wanted to look at a full size photo, Skype would open it in a Web
browser window instead of directly from the app. However, I could also post my
Facebook status updates from Skype, and I could select to mirror those posts to
the Skype mood field.
Skype also integrates into the Facebook contact list. From the news feed, Skype
pops familiar-looking call and SMS buttons (kind of like what you see from
Skype's browser plugins) to place calls or send text messages to a user's
landline or mobile phone, provided that user input that data into their
Facebook profile. Skype also presents a Phonebook view of my Facebook contact
list with a search box, allowing me to find users more easily. This view also
makes it quite clear that only around one in seven of my Facebook contacts added a
phone number to their profile. Mileage may vary with how useful this feature
is, depending on how private people are with those kind of details within
However, I could not find a built-in way to associate my Skype contact entries
with Facebook contacts for the same person, leaving much room for improvement
to integrate the two applications down the road.
I found Skype 5.0 quite adept at automatically reconnecting a call that was
interrupted due to to network conditions. During a live video call, I flipped
my laptop's hardware WiFi switch off, killing the network connection. Both the
affected PC and the remote caller received on-screen prompts that a connection
problem occurred, lending advice on what could be the problem, and alerting
that the application would try to reconnect. After re-establishing the WiFi
service, I found the call reconnected typically within 2 to 5 seconds - no
redialing needed. Skype will stop trying to reconnect about one minute after
the dropped call, however, if network connectivity is not restored.
Skype now also does a better job letting the user know what may be causing
audio or video quality problems. Alerts pop-up at the bottom of the screen to
alert when not enough bandwidth is available for video, advising to downgrade
to audio only for better sound fidelity.
I did discover that if users ignore Skype's warnings that a network connection
was too slow for video, if Skype needs to reconnect the call after an outage,
the application will take things into its own hands, reestablishing only the
audio portion of the call by default. If no network shortcomings were detected
prior to the outage, however, the video would also be reestablished
Available and configured accessory devices are thankfully no longer buried in a
settings menu during a call. With an audio or video call active, I could
instead press the Call Quality information button near the bottom of the screen
to access a dialog box that presents available microphones, webcams, and
speakers, with controls to adjust levels. I could also easily access quality
assessments for my PC (whether I have the horsepower to use audio or high
quality video, or if I need to update video drivers) and for my network. For
example, according to Skype's tools, a connection with a
near-802.11g-equivalent WiFi connection (65 megabits per second) only rates for
medium quality video, while a 130 Mbps 802.11n data rate qualifies for high
One small thing I didn't like about the new interface pertained to window
resizing. Simply put, Skype didn't work right with Windows 7's drag-based
windows resizing capabilities. Specifically, with a full screen Skype window, I
couldn't drag the top bar around to resize the window - I had to either use the
window resize button or double click in the main window to shrink it before I
could move it around, or the keyboard based controls instead.
Skype 5.0 also attempts to make IM more useful for those times when I'm not
online. Now users can send me text messages when I'm off network, which will be
delivered to me the next time I log into a Skype 5.0-enabled instance.