Before you consider taking the plunge into the world that is Skype, here are 10 things we think you should know about it.
1) How does it work?
Founded by the people that brought you the once file-to-file sharing network marvel that was Kazaa, Skype is a VoIP application easily download-able to your desktop PC or in the case of a Skype-friendly mobile like the iPhone, through the Apple iTunes Store. Using your current internet connection, all you have to do is grab your headset with microphone, hit the green button, and you are ready to call people across the world for free.
2) It's free, well mostly
Chatting to a fellow Skype user whether through your computer or Skype-enabled device will set you back the pricey sum of nothing. But before you dump your contract phone, it will cost you a small fee to talk to someone who is not on Skype. You can own local numbers in a host of countries, with your calls to the number charged at the same rate as calls to fixed lines in your own country. Services like SkypeIn and SkypeOut are the route to contacting people on their existing mobile numbers or land-line numbers. It may sound silly, but ensure you know enough people on Skype to fully embrace the service.
3) Skyping all over the world
Essentially what is great about Skype is being able to talk to your long distant relatives in Oz without the pain of the long-distance charge. That is however not the case for every country. Skype is built on a closed protocol which translated means all equipment used is made by the company but also means that a country like China bans the use of Skype. Having recently refused the allowance of WiFi handsets, over fears users would add internet phone services such as Skype to make calls, unofficially it was claimed that it was because they could not track calls. So if you got mates in China you are hoping to talk to for free you may need to think again.
4) Skype devices
Along with Skype sitting on your toolbar on your PC, mobile network provider 3 provides a series of Skype phone handsets, while the PSP via its Wi-Fi connection can also be used for your free calling. Rumors that Skype could be moving to the DSi have been fierce with the Nintendo calming they did not want to develop a mobile service which required a monthly contract. Also available as an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch, it has proved one of their most popular downloads surpassing more than one million downloads, that's six downloads every second and a clear sign of its popularity.
5) Skype plug-ins
Much like the Apple's App Store, Skype has its own place to add more life to your Skype life and make it more than just a place to chat freely. Built with open developer API, it is a free-for-all for those who want to create plug-ins and a-d ons for Skype and go on sale to other users. So if you fancy a spot of chess with your pal in the Ukraine or chilling out to some tunes on Last.fm, simply head to the Skype Extras store and take a browse.
6) Skype mobiles
If you pick up a one of the Skype mobiles you are essentially getting the best of both worlds. As the users of Skype blossoms into their millions, you can contact them for free while still retaining some of the more familiar mobile phone usability.
Allowing you to make Skype phone calls and use the instant messaging service for free, video calling however is not yet supported. ASUS have recently revealed their EEE Videophone, which is not quite a mobile but fully supports face-to-face calling if you need it. If you don't fancy buying a 3 Skype phone, simply pay up a nominal fee for a 3 sim to use on a compatible unlocked handset, download the application and you are on your way to free call heaven.
7) Video chatting
25% of Skype-to-Skype phone calls include video, and it is one of the features which extend its popularity to the likes of talk show colossal Oprah Winfrey using it on one of her shows. With your web cam connected, hit the green button and then the web cam button and you are on your way to conducting business from overseas, or showing off your latest party trick. It is clearly a great way to cut the cost of paying out for a video conferencing set-up at work and the quality of the feedback is one of the best around.
8) Skype means business
Skype has a genuine presence in the world of business, and it is valued so much by some companies that it has been known to be used to hold job interviews. Solving the dilemma of an overseas candidate having to travel half the side of the globe to be grilled for an hour can be evaded as the video calling via Skype is simplicity in itself, providing slightly grainy but nonetheless a refreshingly clear picture to show off your best job-winning skills to your prospective employee.
9) Skype Messenger
Proof that there is more to Skype than phone calls, the Skype Messenger is also a free service from your PC and from Skype-enabled devices. Considerably one of the most effective and easy to use messengers around, simply build up you contact list and then begin to drag and drop people into your existing chats. Chat history is saved in a way which it is easy to refer back to, while file transferring is a simple drag and drop away from your conversation. Skype also allows you to download videos from sites Daily Motion and Met-cafe so you can chat, watch a video and file share all in the same window.
10) Free forever?
For the time being, yes it is but mobile network providers are all too aware of the growing prominence of the VoIP application and how it may affect their business. With the new roaming regulation in effect since July, some of the major mobile phone manufacturers are wondering whether the service of Skype and your standard mobile phone connection should be paid separately, with Nokia's recent announcement to pre-install their N97 handsets with Skype forcing 02 and Orange to block the sale of the phone through their networks. The likelihood of paying for both services seems unlikely, but not impossible, so while it's still free we suggest you get the most out of this VoIP wonder.