Skype 2.0 Beta Launches

A new beta version offers Skype users a free upgrade to video VOIP.

As those at Skype are fond of reporting, many millions of Web surfers worldwide have downloaded the companys client; indeed, its available in 27 languages. A few million of these folks have even gone so far as to use it to either instant message or make unlimited voice calls to other Skype users on a daily basis. Today, with its rollout of the beta Skype 2.0, all those millions of folks could conceivably upgrade and start making free video calls too.

Will it take off? Hard to say, but the potential is certainly there, especially since the key word—"free"—is in here.

"At Skype we want to make talking over the Internet the most natural, simple thing for people all over the world to do. With the release of our new software, its never been easier for people to talk to one another for free, and now they can see each other with video as well," said Niklas Zenstrom, CEO of Skype, in Wednesdays press release.

Skype 2.0 has several interface design enhancements, though the definite standout among the new features is the integrated video calling. In addition to the beta rollout, Skype has announced its collaborative partnerships with Web cam manufacturers Creative and Logitech, as well as its relationship with Six Apart, a blogging-software and -services company.

While there is a list of Skype-certified compatible Webcams from Creative and Logitech, the folks at Skype report that the video feature is compatible with almost any Webcam on the market. After youve downloaded or upgraded to Skype 2.0, simply plug in a Webcam and you can start using the video feature for free. Theres also an offering from Creative: The WebCam Instant Skype Edition, a new Webcam plus headset with microphone.

The new Skype video features have been designed as an integrated component of the new Skype client. With just one click you can switch from the small image seen in the "calling window" to full-screen video (in case you are worried about a bad hair day, you can also click open a window to view what you look like to the person you are calling).

There are plenty of nuts-and-bolts improvements and easily (and freely) downloadable enhancements to the new Skype client. Our favorites are a toolbar that allows one-click calling to contacts from your Microsoft Outlook address book; looking up contacts in real-time by typing a name into the dialing field; seeing what time zone theyre in; and creating contact groups. You can even start conference calls, chats, or file sharing among a whole group with one click.

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