Video Makes Skype 4.0 Grow Bigger, Wider

Updated: Skype, the peer-to-peer VoIP provider and a division of eBay, wants to grow up – both as a company and as a communications utility. To that end, it is launching the beta version of its latest Skype client software.

Josh Silverman, the company’s new CEO, acknowledged that from a usability standpoint, things hadn’t changed much, even as Skype kept adding more features such as embedding third-party plug-ins. Skype needed a better, easier and cleaner client — and Skype 4.0 beta, likely to be available for download tomorrow, is a start. 

The new client is going to cause an uproar amongst many Skype loyalists used to the IM-like nature of the current software. With this version, the software takes up the entire PC desktop screen, mostly to accommodate a growing number of features. (Skype Journal’s Jim Courtney & JKontherun tell me that you can change the screen size, though it isn’t that obvious or easy.) I found it hugely annoying as it forced me to constantly toggle between the client and the desktop; merely doubling or tripling the size of the client seems like it would have sufficed. 

The real reason for the redesign, however, is Skype Video, which desperately needed a new layout because it requires an ease-of-use that eludes the current client. As I pointed out a few weeks ago, video communication (which accounts for about 28 percent of total Skype calls) has been one of the fastest-growing features on Skype, thanks to the easy availability of built-in cameras, especially in devices used by mobile workers.

I often use Skype to conduct calls with my friends around the planet, and occasionally for work as well. As the bandwidth on our broadband connections grows, I think the idea of quick video conversations with friends, family and co-workers will catch on. In this era of rising oil prices and unfriendly skies, it makes sense to simply call someone and see them on computer screen.

But back to the software and my initial impressions (their PR team only sent me the beta download link this morning.) I think after people get over the initial shock related to the bigger size, they will quickly learn to love version 4.0.

I found the improved ability to conduct conversations by consolidating the tabs, which allows you to easily switch between various conversations, especially useful. And initiating a video call is dead simple, almost as simple as Apple’s iChat client.

Skype 4.0 is a much more complete communicator, even despite its beta status. With it, using Skype for instant messaging, making video and voice calls, sending files and sending SMS messages are all easier. I think it’s well worth the download (Available for download tomorrow.) But it’s a shame they don’t have a Mac client — the 4.0 version will initially only be available for Windows-based computers — since Mac is my everyday machine.

The company is also working on introducing features such as auto-redial, call transfer, and most importantly, the ability to send money. I guess they figured out how to integrate eBay’s PayPal with Skype. Now wasn’t that worth spending billions of dollars on?