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Review: Skype 1.3 VoIP

While enterprises are tentatively exploring the possibility of Voice over IP (VoIP), at least one company is providing free over-the-Internet phone service to any consumer who wants to sign up for it.

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Skype Technologies launched the beta of Skype, its free peer-to-peer (P2P) VoIP service, on August 29, 2003. On October 22nd of the same year, it celebrated its 100,000th user. The service currently claims approximately 47 million users who now talk to each other around the globe free of charge, using their Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, or Pocket PC systems.

The core Skype service lets subscribers call each other as long as they have a sound card, speakers, a microphone, and, of course, an Internet connection. You begin by choosing a Skype name, and deciding how much personal information to make accessible to the Skype world at large (or to the contacts entered in your address book).

Skype's interface is well-designed and easily understandable, especially for anyone familiar with instant messaging. There's a welcome simplicity to the off-hook and on-hook phone symbols; anything not obvious about its icons is revealed by mousing over the icons or by cruising down the menus in Skype's compact interface, which sits neatly to the side of your screen when maximized.

You can find other subscribers by searching among a number of parameters, including real name, Skype name, age, or home phone. (Users who want a bit more privacy can be heard but not seen by opting for "invisible" mode.) Getting another user's information is contingent on being authorized by that user as a contact.

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