Skype 4.0 Released in Beta

By Sharla Sikes

Skype announced the release of the beta version of its new look June 18. The new face of Skype includes PC-to-PC audio, video and instant messaging for a true unified communications platform.

Video’s the star of the show in this new version, but the entire platform has been redesigned to allow easier conversation management. According to, 28 percent of Skype calls were video calls in the first quarter of 2008. New Skype 4.0 allows users to chat by video with a single click, while holding an IM conversation at the same time. Skype 4.0 unified conversations capabilities coordinates instant messaging, voice, video, file transfers, SMS and calls together; users can switch to and from different types of single or group conversations. Buttons above the contact lists allow users to list all conversations currently going on, and stores conversations so users can pick up where they left off. Skype 3.0 used tabs and menus to organize conversations.

“Skype is more than just cheap and free voice calls… we’re really enabling many modes of conversation,” Don Albert, general manager of Skype North America, told press and analysts during a call June 18.

The new version is also designed for greater ease of installation and setup, by automatically detecting new computing devices upon plugin, and the ability to “remember” devices. Callers might switch headsets in the middle of a call, and Skype 4.0 would detect the change and switch seamlessly. Other new features include the ability to more easily locate other Skype users, the ability to import contact lists from e-mail address books and invite friends and family to join them on Skype.

Skype, purchased by eBay in 2005 for $3.1 billion, hasn’t been the moneymaker that the online auction site had hoped for. While some 309 million use Skype, eBay hoped for greater adoption by businesses. That may change in 2008, however, as the company is currently on track to bring in $100 million more than it did in 2007.

Skype 4.0 should make the service even more attractive, which may lure in buyers for eBay’s troubled calling system. Google, Yahoo or Microsoft may jump at the chance to purchase Skype. The current rising prices of fuel in the United States may even drive more user adoption, according to Clint Boulton at Increased travel costs may cause more people to stay at home and contact far-flung friends and family via the Internet rather than in person.

“With gas prices going up at an astronomical pace, there is a massive increase in people wanting to do video calls instead of travel, and the combination of products like this and that high gas price may fundamentally change how many do business,” said Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle.

Other boosts to Skype’s popularity include an endorsement from Oprah.

“This has opened Skype to demographics who wouldn’t normally be drawn to Skype,” said Yankee Group analyst Patrick Monaghan. “All the new features that make it easier to install and use video will help these people simply use these features, especially video. People do what Oprah does, and if it’s free, that’s even better.”The beta testing is expected to last the duration of summer 2008, a longer test period than usual but one that reflects on the many big changes in the new version. Skype has not yet announced a release date for the Windows, Mac or Linux versions of Skype 4.0.

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Sharla Sikes

I'm a technology writer who enjoys writing about VoIP topics and news. My goal is to provide an interesting VoIP-related post at least once a day.

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