A new version of Net phone calling software from Skype Technologies SA, a division of online auction pioneer eBay Inc., has won over critics that found many problems with earlier iterations of the same software.
Skype 2.0 became available for the general public earlier this week. Improvements from earlier Skype releases include free video calling and the ability to sort contacts into groups like colleagues, friends and family. There's also mood messages that let fellow Skypers "know where you are and how you're feeling," the company said.
Apparently, Skype's listened to the feedback, some of it pretty nasty. The test version gave rise to a number of complaints ranging from a misfiring voice mail feature to the rather curious choice for the alerts to incoming calls, known as ring tones.
"I tried an early 2.0 beta last month and didn't like it at all. But I've been running the latest build for the past few days and it is just great, no negative issues with it," writes blogger and Skype watcher Neville Hobson.
Skype-News, a Skype news site independent of Skype, said the quality of the video calls is "excellent," in a review post earlier this week.
With 222 million and counting downloads of its software, Skype is, arguably, the best known of the new breed of companies dishing out VOIP (voice over IP), which is freely available software that allows an Internet connection to double as a local, national or international phone line.
The spotlight on Skype grew even brighter in September, when eBay announced its intention to buy the operator, which has more than 1 million paying customers, for about $2.6 billion.
VOIP calls that stay on the Internet are free. Calls to traditional phones are generally much less expensive because of the efficiencies of using the Internet, rather than the archaic circuit-switched technology that now dominates major local phone operator networks.
Some VOIP operators, like Skype, give away their software and rely on the sale of premium services and hardware peripherals (the video feature requires a Web camera, for instance) to generate profits.
Others, such as Vonage or cable operators, offer unlimited local and long distance calls to any kind of phone, VOIP or not, for as little as $15 a month.