Skype launches new beta client and embraces video calling

While only in early beta form Skype 4.0 is a big change from the existing 3.8 version and the company hopes the new look and feel will be enough to entice scores of new users to the service.

The 24-megabyte Skype 4.0 Beta client can be downloaded from the company’s website.

Skype’s Asia-Pacific business development head Chris Lewis says the company aims to make the internet calling service a “ubiquitous platform” that people will use for voice and video calls instant messaging SMS and file sharing from which ever device they happen to be using.

He says earlier versions of the client were primarily designed for voice calls and this latest revision pulls all the other features together in “much more intuitive way”. Already around 30 per cent of all calling minutes on Skype involve video and the company sees this as a key area for growth.

The first change you’ll notice is that version 4.0 takes up a lot of extra screen space. Rather than sitting quietly down one side of the screen it opens in full-screen mode showing your contact list profile call histories and messages. Clicking each of your contacts opens a new pane showing a larger headshot photo and details of their geographic location and time zone.

Lewis says the new interface has been designed make finding Skype features easier. Rather than needing to click on multiple tabs and juggle between multiple views everything can be accessed from a single page.

As it’s still a work in progress this early beta version doesn’t have all its features turned on. For example clicking on the ‘shop’ tab reveals a ‘coming soon’ message. There is also no way to keep a history of IM chats.

The software does make it easier for new users to select and configure hardware such as headsets and web cameras. It also automatically detects settings such as internet connection speed and works to optimise both audio and video streams.

Inbuilt compression technology allows full-screen video calls to be made over links running at around 9 kilobits per second. According to the company good-quality voice calls can be made with just 2 kilobits per second of bandwidth.

It remains to be seen whether regular Skype users will approve of the changes but the company is not backing away from criticism. In fact it’s encouraging feedback which it says will help shape the final look and feel of version 4.0. Expect to see another beta version out before the end of the year followed by a gold version soon after that.

Skype which has been operating for five years now has more than 300 million registered users around the world and says it hosts more than 12 million simultaneously at busy times.