Posts Tagged programs

Down the Tubes: Skype me

“Down the Tubes” is a column I do for our school’s student-run newspaper, the Highland Echo. I also manage their web site, at echo.maryvillecollege.edu

When I first heard about Skype about a million years ago, I thought it sounded like a silly idea. Why should I call people using my computer when I have a cell phone? Isn’t Skype more like a glorified chat program for the gamers? I have no real desire to talk to people that I don’t know. Anyhow, I reasoned, my phone can get a signal far more often than my computer can get wireless (however, with Verizon being what it is, that’s not saying much.) I dismissed it as an AIM-caliber fad and went on my merry way.

Over the summer I got the chance to go to China for three weeks with Professor Scott Henson. While we were there, we met a lot of people that I’m really interested in keeping in touch with. One of them had Skype, and suggested that I get it as well. So I caved and installed it on my Pocket PC, which I’d brought. Suddenly, I realized I could call anyone without worrying about massive international rates. I’m sure my trip-mates thought me an incredible nerd, what with me scoping out Wi-Fi spots, but I was thrilled! I don’t use Skype quite as much now that I’m back in the US, but I do use it to keep in verbal touch with the friends I made in China. It’s also useful for prank-calling (I didn’t spring for a callback number) and spending forever on hold with outsourced customer service lines.

Skype allows the user to call other computers for free, using a microphone and the computer’s sound system. Skype also offers a pay-as-you-go plan for calling landlines and mobile phones, SkypeOut. For ten dollars, I’ve got enough Skype Credit for almost eight hours of international calling to landlines and mobiles. It doesn’t expire, either, as long as I make one call every 180 days. There are also monthly calling plans available. You can also pay for a service called SkypeIn, which allows people on landlines or cell phones to call your computer using a callback number. SkypeIn gives you the option of having a voicemail box to go with your number. With just SkypeOut, your number shows up on caller ID as “Unknown.”

There are a couple of downsides to Skype, the first and foremost being that you have to have an internet connection to make or receive calls. Thus, Skype on a Pocket PC or PDA really can’t replace a cell phone. If the internet connection you use isn’t so great, the calls can be choppy and will often not go through. This is frustrating, but it’s part of using the internet. Because I didn’t go for a SkypeIn number, I can’t have people call me from normal phones, but this is also an upside if I don’t want somebody to have my number, like large companies.

The only other problem I have with Skype is the fact that my ancient main computer doesn’t have a built-in microphone. People can call me and talk all they’d like, but I’m restricted to the chat function while on that computer. I guess I’ll have to go get myself one of those desktop microphones, because as it is, my one-sided conversations are very frustrating, and kind of funny.

So try Skype out for yourself and see how it works for you. I may have just identified myself as a massive geek by proclaiming my use of the program, but I really like it! Skype’s web site is http://www.skype.com, and you can download the program for free.

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