Skype's second beta for Skype 5.0 for Windows allows users to make group video conference calls for up to 10 people.
The leading provider of PC-to-PC VOIP (Voice over IP) calls released the update Sept. 2, more than a week after Google launched a Call Phones from Gmail service to compete with Skype's calling service from PCs to other phones.
The new Skype for Windows beta also offers a "fresh new look, as well as increased stability and better quality when making group video calls," said Skype spokesman Peter Parkes.
Skype began testing group video calls for up to five people in its first Skype for Windows 5.0 beta in May.
Skype said those beta users must download the second beta if they want to make video calls for up to 10 users. Each participant must have the new beta build, available for download here, to make or join a call.
Skype also added Skype Home, allowing users to set their profile picture and mood message, follow their friends, family and colleagues' mood messages, and receive account notifications.
The second beta also fixes bugs from the first version and adds call recovery to automatically reconnect Skype calls that are interrupted due to network problems.
Group video calling is currently available as a free trial. It will be interesting to see whether the company will charge for the service in the future and what that pricing might be.
The industry is littered with dozens of video conferencing services offered for free or low fees per month.
Some of them are super well known, such as Cisco WebEx Meeting and IBM Lotus Sametime. Others, such as Dimdim and FuzeBox, hang around the periphery.
Google Aug. 25 launched a Call Phones for Gmail service that enables voice calls from a computer to a mobile or landline phone.
Given Google Apps' focus on group collaboration it's only a matter of time before the company offers group video calls and chat, probably for a nominal fee.
However, Skype has the massive user base of 560 million people making calls all over the world. It's a known, trusted entity and the network effect could give Skype group calls the edge over video conferencing incumbents and startups.