Skype Is FREE 

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Last November I discovered Skype at version 0.97, it worked well but as with the 'Chicken and the Egg' problem not all that many users. This week Skype for the first time notched one million concurrent users.

Version 1 launched in the early summer and I now spend more time on Skype for no cost than I do using the phone. All you need is the free Skype software, download time from around one minute. Probably another minute to complete the installation and maybe as long to create a basic profile.

To run Skype on a PC you need a microphone and some speakers. You may prefer to use a headset, more privacy and better tonal sound but they are not essential.

Once you have created a profile you need someone else to speak to, if they are already a member then look them up on Skype. Once you have their name you can request to be allowed to speak to them and once they agree you can call each other as often as you like for as long as you like for no cost. It matters not if they live one minute from you or in Australia, all calls made from one computer to another are FREE.

Since November a few changes and enhancements have been made to Skype, should you have an early version just download the latest and enter your username, that's it.

The whole thing is easy to use and to setup, however the Skype help is second to none. Click Help from the interface and you are taken to online pages that cover almost anything you could want, there are even pictorial pages showing you how to do things.

Since November I have been unable to use Skype for just one day and that was due to the poor - non existent - written instructions with a new sound card, nothing whatever to do with Skype.

The interface is clear, under the normal Windows menu structure there are four tabs. Start, Contacts, Dial and Call List. If someone Skype's you a ringing is heard and their name appears, you click a green phone handset icon and have your conversation. Once finished press the red handset to hang up. For you to make a call highlight a name from your contacts list and press the green handset.

The names on your list are black when they are online and grey when offline. Beside each online name are a choice of icons. Online and willing to receive calls is a green tick. However there are other icons for Away, Not Available and Do Not Disturb. Skype also allows sending of Instant Messages that could be a simple sentence or a large image. Provided you are both online these are transmitted immediately if not it waits for you both to be online to be sent.

The owners of Skype have one main revenue stream and that is called Skype Out where the other person is not online - or maybe they do not even own a computer - and then you pay a small fee per minute, you dial their number from a dial pad onscreen and your call is sent over the Internet to a point near their location and then over ordinary phone lines to them.

The cost of this service can be as little as 0.01.7 euros a minute. With there being around 1.43 euros to the pound that means calls cost from 1.1pence a minute.

You buy credits and you currently need to use them within six months. Calls to UK mobiles can be cheaper as they are currently shown as 0.20.5 euros a minute I make that around 14.3pence a minute. A full lists of costs to every country landline and mobile, is listed alphabetically on the Skype site.

If you make a lot of Skype Out calls in the evening or at weekends to people in the UK from the UK then you may find services offered by some telephone companies cheaper. However anything during the day be it UK or abroad is unlikely to beat the Skype costs.

Should you currently purchase a Plantronics headset they are offering a voucher for 120 free Skype minutes at the base 0.01.7 euro rate. You can however use your credits to any destination but you would get less than 120 minutes. Plantronics headsets are among the best on the market and I hope to tell you about a range of them shortly.

Skype Out can suffer from a little latency according to the quality of the phone line used but providing you have Broadband access on your PC then the cost to Skype another Skype user is FREE and you cannot get better than that. Sound quality is almost always as good as a normal phone call on a clear line and often better.

Skype will work over dial up but then of course you have to factor the cost you are paying to dial up into the equation. This article is already too long, just try Skype for FREE and I doubt you will disagree that it is superb.

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