Skype is 5 years old this year (2008), and has undergone certain minor changes. We should maybe have a different look at it; a look that will, on the one hand, consolidate our respect for a still-going-strong pioneer, and on the other hand, make us realize that we might find greener pasture considering other PC-based calling tools out there, that have gone one step or two beyond where Skype has reached.
But let this be said before we go any further: Skype is 340 million users strong, with 100 billion free calls. No other VoIP service has achieved this. Fact therefore still remains that if you are starting off with VoIP and you want to make a maximum of friends out there to whom you can talk on voice and video chat for free, Skype is the best choice. Let's briefly brush through its history and see what's so good and bad with it.
Skype's 5 Year History
Skype launched in 2003, offering basic PC-to-PC VoIP calls. Calls to landline and mobile phones are paid with Skype credit, through SkypeOut. Calls from landlines and mobiles can be received on Skype, again against credit, through SkypeIn.
Back in 2006, Skype's subscriber database hit the 100 million mark. In 2007, Skype had more features introduced, like SMS, radio, desktop sharing, sketch pad and the famous business control panel, a free web-based tool that allows you to set up and manage Skype within your company. The control panel manages Skype credit and SkypeIn numbers for all members of the control panel.
2007-2008 saw the release of version 3.5, featuring video conferencing and free video features. Another newer version styled up the Skype softphone interface. Skype also improved the quality of its free video calls, allowing a better video conferencing experience. It also introduced the 3 Skypephone, a mobile phone designed by 3, to be with used the Skype service for mobile calls.
Skype introduced the Skype To Go number, a special access number you can dial to call almost anywhere in the world – from any phone or mobile in your country – and save with favorable rates. Skype also partnered with the very popular social networking site MySpace for better buddy search. As I write, Skype announces what I'd call a departure from its traditional pay-as-you-call habit - monthly rates. Skype users can pay €4.54 incl. VAT per month for unlimited calls to landline numbers in one country; and extend that to 36 countries for €10.29 incl. VAT.
During these five years, Skype has changed hands. Ebay acquired it from its Luxembourg-based creator. It has also know bad times, being the target of numerous security attacks, to the point of being down a number of days.
Skype and Other VoIP Services
I like to think that most people using Skype do so because they are ignorant of other tools that do the same job. But had they known, would they have changed?
Where Skype Lingers Behind
Yeigo and Fring, for example, do great with mobile phones, and have brought VoIP, and hence free calling, in the pockets of mobile phone users. Skype does quite poorly in the field of mobile VoIP; 3 skypephone, according to me, is not a real success. You wouldn't buy a phone only to use Skype, would you? The new Skype softphone for mobile phones is no better than other key players in this field.
Update (12 Jan 09): Skype just launched its new mobile client, called Skype lite, and it works on more than a hundred devices, including Google Phone and iPhone. It does not depend on Wi-Fi or 3G as it places calls using the available GSM network. This latter feature is inexistent with many other key players. This new move places Skype back in a firm position in the mobile VoIP rate; the previous paragraph might therefore be obsolete.
VoIPStunt and Gizmo offer great rates, and for some users, they offer more free minutes and cheaper calling rates for certain needs. Jajah and other web-based services do quite well in getting rid of the softphone and headset, and also with the rates.
Concerning video conferencing, applications like ooVoo, TokBox and the very popular Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger have better standards than Skype, although the latter does very well and is fully adequate for one-to-one video communication.
And Where It Does Well
Having said all this, I myself still use Skype (among others). Why? I guess the main reason is its popularity. Skype gives you an open window to talk free to 340 million people worldwide. With Skype, and other applications of the like, you can talk for free with anyone in the world on condition that they are using the same service (Skype in this case) as well. So with that many subscribers, your chances of talking for free is much bigger. Most business contacts, friends and relatives do have a Skype presence.
Skype's call quality is also an asset. Its quality is not the best around, but reasonably good, as long as the conditions for a good VoIP communication are gathered. It has its own SIP and P2P standard, and a good number of servers worldwide to ensure good quality.
Also, its popularity has brought it to be adapted by many other services. For instance, it can be integrated with email clients like MS Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird, with services like Jetnumbers virtual number service, etc. It is also the target application for most call-recording tools.