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This article was originally written for a magazine called eBuyer not long after eBay bought Skype, but the mag closed, so rather than bin it, I have posted it here in the hope that someone might find it useful. It was written some time ago and a newer version of Skype has been released. However, the information here is still useful.

Introduction to Skype

We often tell people to call us or text us, well now you can tell them to Skype you too. It's the latest and coolest way to communicate

You may have heard of Skype because it has been in the news and is advertised on eBay's website. The software can be used to make PC to PC calls, but many people have been doing that for some time using MSN Messenger. So what is different about the Skype service and why did eBay bought it? Surely it's just another instant messaging program with voice talk added on. Should you switch from MSN Messenger or is this just eBay trying to grab a slice of the instant messaging market?

More than IM

Skype has certainly generating a lot of interest recently, but it all started a long time before eBay bought it. It only came to the attention of eBay because it was growing so quickly. It would be wrong to think of Skype as yet another instant messaging program and we already have Windows, MSN, AOL, ICQ, Google, and Yahoo to choose from.

Skype does have very similar features to instant messengers, but there is a difference. AOL, ICQ, MSN and others are instant messsaging programs with voice communications bolted on, whereas Skype has been designed from the ground up for VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). It has instant messaging facilities and you can chat with your friends by typing text messages, but its primary function is for voice communications. (Video communications has been added with the release of version 2.)

Although you can talk to someone using a microphone, speakers and instant messenger program, it is not always straightforward to set up and it is not easy to find people you know. Skype is very simple set up and you can easily find people that are signed up to the service. A PC to PC telephone call to anyone anywhere in the world is free and the Skype software is free too

Gone to POTS

What's more, with Skype you can call ordinary telephones too. Any land line or mobile phone anywhere in the world can be called within minutes of installing the Skype software. It is plumbed into POTS (plain old telephone system), so that you can call anyone whether they have Skype or not.

When calling land lines or mobile phones, no matter who you call or where they are located in the world, you pay just the local telephone call charge. That is because your voice travels around the Internet to the nearest telephone exchange and then transfers to copper lines for the last few miles.

The ability to call regular telephones is an additional service that you have to pay for, but it is very cheap. Another extra is the ability for people to call you from standard telephones and mobiles. The call starts off on POTS and is then transferred to the Internet and routed to your computer. If you aren't sat at your PC, a message can be recorded in your voicemail inbox.

If you have a laptop computer, you may connect to the Internet from home, work, or someplace else like Starbucks. It doesn't make any difference to Skype and people can still call you PC to PC for free or from a regular telephone if you have signed up for this extra service.

A whole industry of add-on suppliers is rapidly growing and you can buy telephone handsets that plug into your computer so you don't need to use a headset or microphone and speakers. Soon, you might even be able to plug a handset into a router so you won't even need to switch on your computer.

Skype and eBay

You may be wondering what this has got to do with eBay. Well, perhaps the company just wants to branch out into new areas. After all, this is a fast growing service that could potentially be a good source of revenue. While this is useful, perhaps a bigger plus for eBay is that members will be able to talk to each other. Power sellers and stores on eBay can put their Skype name on their auction pages and if you have a question or a problem, you can talk to a real person instead of having to communicate via email.

One of the biggest problems with buying over the Internet is trust and customer service. Dealing with companies via email is fraught with problems and there is nothing like speaking directly to someone. eBay stores now have no excuse for not providing good customer service and buyers can call sellers for free using Skype's PC to PC VOIP facilities. It could really shake up the market with the best sellers accepting Skype calls for queries and service.

Getting started with Skype

1 The first thing that you need to do is to download Skype. You can either click the Skype link on eBay's home page or go directly to www.skype.com. You can view a movie or learn more about the software here. You might want to explore the site a bit before continuing.

2 Click the Download link on the home page and then the Download Skype button. The default is the Windows version, but others are available. If an option to run it appears, select it, but you can also save the file to the desktop and then run it afterwards.

3 When SkypeSetup is run, you will be prompted to set the language and accept the license agreement. Then you choose the installation folder and whether to create desktop and Start menu icons. You don't need to worry about any of this and you can just accept the defaults.

Setting up and testing Skype

4 When installation is complete, it gets a bit more interesting and you now have the opportunity to create a Skype account. This involves thinking up a unique name that others can use to find you and call you, and a password. Your name must be at least six characters.

5 You are prompted to enter your full name, country, city and email address. You don't have to do this, but it would be pretty hard for anyone to find you if you don't. Your email address is not made public, so don't worry about entering it here. No-one will be able to see it.

6 After a few seconds, your account is created and you will see the Skype window. A Getting Started Wizard will appear too. It can be turned off with the tick box in the bottom left-hand corner, but leave it for the moment and click the big Start button to continue.

7 The wizard starts with some information about how to test whether Skype is installed properly and is working OK. There is a help link at the bottom of the wizard window that is useful if you have any questions or problems with setting up your PC's audio equipment.

8 Before you continue, you need to make sure that you have a microphone and speakers plugged into the correct sockets on your PC. Then click Start, All Programs, Accessories, Entertainment, Volume Control. Make sure the microphone and Wave volumes are turned up.

9 Switch back to Skype and in the main window, select the Skype Test Call item on the Contacts tab and click the green telephone button at the bottom. Say a few words and Skype will record them and play them back. If you cannot hear this, go back to step 8.

Adding your contacts

10 The next step of the wizard shows how to add a contact to Skype. Skype contacts are like your buddies in an instant messaging program and you can see when they are online or offline. The contact list is used for dialling too, so it acts like a telephone book. Skip this for now.

11 You don't need to add any contacts yet because the next step of the wizard is to automatically import your contacts. It does this by looking for email addresses in Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express. Click Next until you get to this step and tick one or both.

12 If you use Microsoft Outlook, there is a security system in place that prevents programs from accessing your contacts. You may see an Outlook dialog pop up asking you to give permission for Skype to access your contacts. Click Yes and set the time to the maximum.

13 All the email addresses in Outlook and Outlook Express address books are displayed in a list. You will not want to add everyone to Skype, so read through the list and choose your friends and relatives that you will be using Skype to call. Tick the ones you want to add.

14 Skype will not add contacts without first getting their permission, after all, they may not want to speak to you. The next step is a request for authorisation from the contacts you selected in the email address list. Choose the top option to let them see when you are online.

15 The final step is to create a welcome message that will be sent to the contacts you selected. Enter your name and your email address. A sample welcome message is automatically created for you, but you can edit it or replace it with your own. Click Next to finish.

Making calls with Skype

16 If you want to talk to someone on your contact list, you can make a PC to PC call for free. Obviously, they need to be sitting at their computer and running Skype. You can see from the status if they are online. Just click a contact and look for a green tick next to them.

17 Click the big green call button to call them. The person you are calling will see in Skype that you want to speak to them and a telephone ring will be heard through their computer's speakers. They just click the green button to answer your call, then you can chat away.

18 Select Tools, Go To My Account Page and Internet Explorer will start and will open the login page at the Skype website. Enter your Skype username and password (from step 4). You can then buy Skype credit using a credit card, Paypal account or bank account.

19 You don't have to buy Skype credit, but if you do, it opens up many more features. For example, you can select the Dial tab in Skype and enter a standard telephone number. Skype can be used to call anywhere in the world, so enter the country code (+44 for UK numbers).

20 It is possible to send a file to a contact once you have established a PC to PC call. Click the send File button in the toolbar and then select a file on your hard disk drive to send. The recipient must then accept the file transfer. You can still talk while this is taking place.

21 In many ways, Skype is like an instant messaging program such as Windows Messenger or ICQ and you can open a chat window in the same way. You don't even need to make a call, just select a contact and click the Chat button in the toolbar and then type your message.


Top tips

Tip 1: Update your profile
During installation, you are asked for your name and location. These become accessible to everyone and they make it easy for people to find you. The information becomes part of your profile and you can edit it and add more details if you wish. Select File, My Profile to see what others can see about you. You can enter your home, office and mobile numbers, but do you really want people to be able to see these? Do not fill in these boxes unless you want everyone to know them. People can probably guess your gender from your name, so there is no harm in choosing the male or female options, but your date of birth just below is a different matter. You may not be shy about your age, but remember that it is often used for security purposes, so don't fill it in. By all means type in the URL of your website though.

Tip 2: Customise your picture
When you start using Skype and add some contacts, you will notice that some of them have colourful pictures, while other have a simple blank and white silhouette of a man's head. The silhouette's are dull and boring, and that is how you will look to other people until you customise your picture. Select File, My Profile and in the bottom left-hand corner is the picture that is displayed by people who add you as a contact. Click the Change button and scroll down the list of icons you can use. If there is nothing that you like, click the Browse button and pick any JPEG image on your hard disk drive. It is best if you prepare one that is the right size first and you need an image that is 96 x 96 pixels. The images in the list are stored in the My Documents\My Skype Pictures folder.

Tip 3: Advanced customisation
After completing this tutorial, you should select Tools, Options and browse the configuration settings for Skype. There are lots of options that are very useful. For example, you can choose whether double clicking a contact starts a voice call or a text chat. In the Privacy section, you can choose to allow anyone to call you, only people in your contact list, or only people you have authorised. You might want to choose the latter if children use your computer. In the Advanced section, you can choose whether Skype automatically runs every time you start the computer, or whether you want to run it manually yourself when you need it. Calls can be automatically answered if you prefer for completely hands-free operation. For people that are experiencing connection problems, there is some useful information in the Connection section. You may need to configure your firewall to allow communication through certain ports.

              

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