NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2009
Using Skype
By Mike Kearns,
Member of the Computer Club of Green Valley, AZ

bmkearns1 (at) yahoo.com (click to email author)

This article has been obtained from APCUG with the authorís permission for publication by APCUG member groups; all other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

Using free Skype software on your computer allows you to make calls over the internet to others who have the service. It's easy to download and works with most, if not all, computers. Try this great way to keep in contact with your kids, grandchildren, siblings and close friends.

You need three things to make it happen:

1. A high-speed internet connection.
2. A web cam, and I recommend Logitech. You can buy a good camera (with install disk) at Wal-Mart for around $50. Newer computers have web cams built in. Each camera requires some adjustments for brightness, contrast and sound, but they are usually easy to work with.
3. You need to download the free program by going to Google and typing "free Skype download." The PC version is 4.2, and the latest Mac version is 2.8.

When you download the program you will be asked what Skype name you wish to use. You can choose any name you want. If you pick an unusual name, it is a good idea to let your Skype friends know, because Skype offers a directory to locate their users all over the world.

When you attempt the first contact with another Skype user, the person receiving the call has the option of accepting or rejecting the call. If you attempt to contact someone who doesn't know you, they can reject your call, similar to a spam blocker.

The web cam gives a nice picture of the person to whom you are talking on the screen. Quick movements can distort the picture for a few seconds while the web cam is adjusting.

Skype includes a small window of each party at the bottom of the screens so you know what the other person is viewing. The quality of the picture is better if both parties have a good high-speed connection. Going from a dial-up connection to a high-speed connection can cause distortion in the video and also slows down the interaction.

It is best to set up a time with the person you will be calling so they have their Skype program open and ready to accept the video call. The person you are calling also has the option to accept the call with or without video. Once you are connected, you can talk as long as you want--there is no charge. You can make adjustments to see the person on full screen or half screen. I find that the image gets a little distorted on full screen, but overall it is still a good picture.

Another neat feature permits you to move a Netbook or laptop with the built-in camera around the room to show the person different items of interest in your home. The new, small Netbooks are especially useful because they are so portable and lightweight.

Skype can also be used as your telephone service by clicking on their Shop button. You set up a credit-card account with Skype to pay for the calls. Then you can make a phone call to a person's land line and talk to them through your computer.

I have noticed a few people using the new Netbooks as both a phone and video-calling service. They weigh only two pounds, and many women can carry them in their purse. With Skype you can make phone calls anywhere in the world, and the cost per minute will vary depending on where you are calling. I understand that overseas phone calls are very reasonable.

Keep in mind that Skype is not designed to be a replacement for your ordinary home phone since you would not have your computer on all the time. Also, be aware that you cannot use Skype for emergency calling such as 911.

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