I signed up for Skype a while ago, put EUR 10 into my account, and made a few calls. It was cute, it worked, but after a couple of experiments I couldn’t see the big deal. After all, Skype lags by a second or two (like the old trans-Atlantic cables), it has poor sound quality even compared to my cell phone, and phone calls in North America, even long distance, are so close to free that Skype hardly matters.
Over here in the Amsterdam this week, it’s a different story. My North American cell phone doesn’t work (of course), calling from the hotel is ridiculously expensive (even calling a toll-free number), and there are very few public phones. All I need is a wireless Internet signal, though, and I can call home on Skype to my heart’s content for (literally) pennies. Even more importantly, I can call North American toll-free numbers directly, something that’s not otherwise possible at any cost from Europe. OK, now I get the excitement around VoIP.
Instant messaging (aka chat) has been around in various guises a lot longer than Skype, but I’m in my fourties, and thus, a little too old ever to have used it socially. What finally changed that is Google’s integration of IM right into their webmail service. While I’m reading my GMail, a little green light goes on when anyone I know is reading at the same time (the joys of AJAX). After midnight Amsterdam time last night, I ended up with three chat windows open — one for my spouse, and one for each of my kids — carrying on three separate private conversations about how their days had gone. I could have called on Skype, of course, but I couldn’t have talked privately to all three at once, and I wouldn’t have known when they were all free without those little green lights. While typing furiously and switching among windows, I got perhaps a tiny taste of what it’s like to be a hyperactive 16-year-old girl.
XTech, AJAX, and Rails
Speaking of AJAX, IDEAlliance staff has told me that the AJAX developer’s day here at XTech 2006 has been so popular that it’s almost overwhelmed, with a huge number of last-minute walk-ins. The Rails tutorials have also been popular. There’s obviously a lot of demand for AJAX and Rails information over here — good job, Edd.
Now, back to age-appropriate communications. When’s the penknife to sharpen my quill? …
I’ve also found that Skype usually had average quality to the best (I tried to use on Linux, oh the interface works fine but not the audio which makes it pointless).
I gave a try to other products and I’ve found Gizmo to be the most reliable. I also love the audio quality delivered by GTalk (not mentionning its non bloated interface) but Gizmo has the advantage to work find under Linux as well.
There is also OpenWengo which seems to do fine (I haven’t tested it much though) and which is open source.
You might want to give those an ear 🙂
I got Skype working on Linux once I figured out how to enable the mic in the mixer. I don’t know if the sound quality would be any better under Mac or Windows, though.
Sound quality on Skype seems to be very much a function of the microphones/speakers in use. With reasonable headsets it’s as good as any phone except for the very slight time-lag, with builtin laptop microphones it’s awful. My use has been mostly within Europe (UK, Sweden, Switzerland) plus a few calls to Egypt or Hong Kong.