July 15, 2005 02:33 PM PST
I've been using Skype
for a while now with a $6 headset from buy.com. It's a free p2p phone service that includes IM and file transfer features. You can also make calls from your computer to a regular phone number using a feature called SkypeOut. The per-minute rates to most countries are extremely low, and the sound quality is quite good.
The three issues I found were the first time I installed the software, I got an incoming ring while I was going through the install wizard. My CPU pegged to 100% and it took several minutes just to get task manager up to kill it. Since then it's been fine. In general, though, it takes a lot of cpu, maybe a minimum of 450mhz if you're doing nothing else. The second issue is that Skype often shows your friends as offline, when they are actually online. It's so bad that I just use messenger to see if people are online and then ring them up on skype (which still works if they appear offline). They can send voice data halfway around the world, but apparently can't synchronize presence data. The third annoyance is that they seem to come out with at least one new version a week, and some break compatibility with users who arent up-to-the-minute. It makes me nervous they have to update the code so often.
A tip: the voice quality (especially for multi-person conference calls) depends on who initiates and adds people to the call. The conference initiator should have the highest (upstream) bandwidth.
Overall Skype has better quality than older solutions such as Roger Wilco, or XBox Live, and it traverses NAT and firewalls well. I have yet to try it while playing an online game, but for voice chat it works really well. Also, I should mention that although it's by the developers of KaZaA, it does not contain spyware (seems they've found a viable business model that doesn't revolve around that junk).
Here's an interesting article on Skype
which also has choice words from their main competitor, Vonage:
Vonage CEO Jeffrey Citron says the pricing models are different because the products themselves are different. In fact, Citron labels Skype an “ancillary service” and not a direct competitor. “Skype says it themselves, they are not a replacement for your home telephone -- they are an ancillary communication service.
Basically Vonage is just pissed because someone came along and developed a very attractive free version of their product. Vonage wants to charge $25 per month minimum, just like your local phone company. If anything, I'd say that a company getting into home phone service is ancilliary to what's really happening - people replacing their land lines with cellular. Finally, Skype is working with hardware vendors on phones, and is currently betaing their SkypeIn service where you can get one or more physical phone numbers for your account, to allow incoming as well as outoging calls through the phone system. So they are competing directly with Vonage - and winning.