Yesterday Skype released its initial Skype for Windows 3.0 beta with several new features. However, the press release does not really show the entire picture and, in fact, two of the four features mentioned were available in the previous 2.6 beta – namely, Click-to-Call and Skypecasts Live. Click-to-Call is simply an embedding of the previously available Skype for Web Toolbars supported by the Phone Number Recognition COM-component. It is a very handy feature that I have been using for some time.
But the other two — Public Chats and a User Interface refresh — bring some significant changes:
Public Chats — my first activity was to walk through the Public Chat setup wizard. But I quickly realized it should be called the Skype Watercooler. The algorithm allows you to control who will participate; you can invite via emails, chat session or via a web page. You can control if a participant is active (able to contribute to the discussion) or passive (can only read the discussion). Lots of flexibility here. Whereas Skypecasts are publicly exposed such that anyone can join, the level of participation here is determined by the level of exposure you provide for your invitation.
But most interesting is to get the experience that comes from the persistence of a public chat. Yesterday I joined the Skype 3.0 Public Chat started by Phil; this morning when I came to my PC I could quickly review all the conversation that had occurred overnight (hey, those Europeans start their day early). Skype’s Public Chat will become an interesting tool within the social networking landscape but Skype Marketing needs to look at a more definitive, attention grabbing name for the service. Let me say it again: Skype Watercooler.
User Interface: Lots to talk about here but I will just highlight some features:
The first one that grabbed me eliminates one of the frustrations associated with answering Skype calls on PC’s containing multiple Sound Devices, namely, the incorporation of Sound Device settings into the Call Tab that comes up during a call. Click on the headphone icon on the right, above the Address Bar, and the Sound Devices menu shown appears allowing you to make a change without having to do the Control Panel | Sound Devices routine.
However, that “Windows Default Device” setting for my configuration allows my Sound Devices selection to automatically change when I pick up/set down my VoIPvoice enabled phones. I would like to see a stand alone Sound Device utility that provides the additional flexibility I need to switch between my headset (on an internal sound card), my USB speakers (for SlingBox and Windows Media Player) and my VoIPvoice phone configuration, but keeping the feature that automatically switches to my VoIPvoice drivers when I pick up a VoIPvoice device.
The blue button below the speaker setting provides one more speaker volume control; the control below the mic device selection can also have a blue ball — read about it in Jaanus’ post on Sound Device selection; however, you need his solution only if you have significant difficulty with your mic operation.
Tabs: A major UI change is the use of Tabs such that operating icons only appear within the appropriate tab. For instance, the Contacts Tab is the primary location from which you would launch a Search or a Conference call, so they are demoted to a secondary level in the primary Toolbar. Overall the new Tabs reduce Toolbar clutter while maintaining ready access to key features; reminds me of the move a few years ago to the more extensive use of Tabs in Windows XP.
Check out Duncan’s post for more information on the new UI covering Tabs, Contacts Tab, Calling functionality and (personal) Chats.
Extras Gallery: Here we see the initial implementation of the Skype Plug-in framework linking individual third party Skype-associated programs with Skype users via the Skype client. But more importantly we can start to see how Skype plans to provide a marketing vehicle for developers’ innovations. With direct access from the Skype client, these Skype related programs gain more visibility than simply via the Skype web store. The next obvious step would be to facilitate purchases using Skype credits (which can be purchased via PayPal). The challenge will be cataloging and displaying these partner programs in a user friendly, readily accessible manner as the number of available plug-ins/programs scales.
This is by no means a complete summary of all the new capabilities and “hidden” features. More will follow as we gain more experience. And keep in mind, this is still a beta although we’re hearing the target for a gold release is before year end. While my network of contacts says it is quite solid we’re still finding (and reporting) subtle bugs and issues. In fact, it is interesting to note that some are being picked up and communicated via the Skype 3.0 Public Chat referenced above; our thanks to those Skype employees who have joined this chat from time-to-time.