Force of habit might make you default to Skype again and again in your office, without a second thought. After all, its usage is rampant -- and basic features are free.
Skype no longer releases the total number of its registered users, but the company reports that 300 million connected users is the average number of people using Skype on a monthly basis. Sure, chances are good that your coworkers, remote workers and business partners already have Skype IDs. And many people -- myself included -- would balk at the suggestion of abandoning the oh-so-familiar Voice-over-IP client, in favor of another VoIP setup, which includes its own rigmarole of inviting contacts to partake.
However, it is worth your time to poke around and check out the competition. For one thing, on the video call front, you can get a ton more for free from other vendors. Skype, now owned by Microsoft, limits you to a one-on-one video call for free -- and that's it. Otherwise, to initiate a call with three or more talking heads, you need to sign up for a Premium account, starting at $5 per month.
In a different vein, keep in mind that Skype has been scrutinized over security concerns. For some, depending on the nature of your calls and the kind of data shared, this might not be the biggest consideration. But if privacy and security are of paramount importance, you'll find services with built-in protection. No matter which vendor you choose, make sure to review the terms of service, so you know the data ownership ins and outs behind the scenes.
If you're up for giving a new service a spin, we found six Skype alternatives. The first, UberConference, tries to simplify the conference call experience.
I don't know how you feel, but dialing into a conference call with multiple parties can be a royal pain: You need to have a passcode or two at the ready to enter manually, only to encounter disembodied voices talking over one another and reintroducing themselves. With UberConference, invitees get an email and text message to join the call. The phone number they use to dial in authenticates them when they enter, no passcode necessary. UberConference's browser interface lets participants know who's talking at any given moment, and you can scope out everybody's details, thanks to its integration with LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
The call organizer can mute, add and nix callers -- and "earmuff" certain parties, if you want to talk privately on the fly. The free service lets you start with five people. A pro version, at $10 a month, bumps you up to a max of 40 people on a call, plus you can save all your conference calls as MP3s.