Skype Toolbars: Providing Contextual Access to Skype

Peter Kalmström, Program Manager for Skype Toolbars, demonstrated several new (and forthcoming) features in the Skype Toolbar Suite to me during an interview at the eBay DevCon. The Skype Toolbar Suite includes Skype Email Toolbar; Skype Web Toolbar (Internet Explorer, Firefox) and the recently released Skype Office Toolbar.

As an overall philosophy in designing toolbars, Peter says their objective is to “make toolbars contextual”. For instance, make it easy to initiate any Skype-related action from any phone number recognized in Outlook (Contacts and Email Messages), websites or Office documents. Several other examples, including contextual PayPal integration, came out in the course of the interview. Alec Saunders commented today on the importance of context awareness:

… I believe that context awareness is a critical element of producing truly useful software, and true context awareness is difficult to achieve in all cases. Take presence, for instance. Most implementations require you to set a specific presence status. Some can anticipate some kinds of presence …

Peter brings several years of experience developing Outlook Plug-ins for business applications where he had a business with over 1,000 customers — a challenge in that Outlook was not developed as a particularly robust platform for “extensions”, yet many third party plug-ins have become available over time. From a starting point a year ago where he was the only Toolbar developer prior to the eBay acquisition last fall, Peter has now built a team of ten developers and is in the process of hiring several testers to enhance the quality control of both beta and released products.

His first product at Skype was the October, 2005 release of Skype Toolbar for Outlook, bringing Skype/SkypeOut access to every Contact in your Outlook Address Book whether they have a Skype or legacy PSTN. Future releases of this Toolbar (no release dates available at this time) will include:

  • a PayPal button to launch a money transfer from within Outlook
  • a conference call setup feature whereby selecting all the Contacts participating in conference call will create a “launch pad” for a multi-party conference call

(Disclosure: The Skype Toolbar for Outlook has become a staple of my Outlook configuration — along with the third party SkyLook plug-in for Outlook which has a different feature set.)

Skype Web Toolbar “recognizes phone numbers and Skype Names on webpages, so that you can call with one click, through Skype”. It has a unique ability to sense which country code should be associated with a web page and, more importantly, with individual phone numbers within the web page. For instance, it can usually differentiate between U.S. and Canadian phone numbers even though they both use the country code “+1”. The phone number recognition algorithm has also been made available as a Skype API such that Skype Partners can embed phone number recognition into third party applications.

Skype Office Toolbar, released two weeks ago just prior to the eBay DevCon, provides:

  • ability to use Skype File Transfer to send the currently open document to a Skype Contact
  • recognition of phone numbers within documents and ability to launch a call or to send an SMS message to the number (provided the recipient’s phone is equipped to handle SMS).

Skype Office Toolbar works with Word, Excel and PowerPoint in Office 2000, Office XP and Office 2003; future releases will add Access, Visio and Project. A more complete review of Skype Office Toolbar will follow soon.

Peter also lead the Skype Active X presentation at eBay DevCon and directed a couple of the (well attended) Skype Lab sessions related to using Skype API’s.

Skype Journal would like to acknowledge the assistance of Multi-Link, Inc. in facilitating our attendance at eBay Live.

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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