TapSkyped up

I normally use these posts (the technical ones that is) to highlight problems with products and help people get around them. This one is different. Skype is brilliant and easy! For those that don’t know, it is an internet phone system.

The Mac Pro is one of the few Apple machines that doesn’t come with a microphone so I had to get one first. Unlike a PC it only has a Line-in socket (low sensitivity) and requires a powered microphone. It is a shame that it doesn’t provide 3v phantom power for electrets but I don’t suppose there is much call for it. Powered mics are remarkably hard to get and the easier solution is a USB microphone—it also leaves the line in socket free for other things. Some people recommend using a headset but we didn’t find it necessary.

Then install the software, create an account (most of the good names are already taken unfortunately) and you are away. The only criticism I have is that the Skype web site doesn’t give you much help around the hardware side but otherwise it is fine.

The quality is excellent and it is easy to use. I was particularly impressed by the easy and high quality conference call facility. Now if only the company system was as good as that!

We also installed on a windows laptop and that was just as straight forward. The software version is different and the windows version looks a lot more cluttered but it works just as well, even with the laptop pin-hole microphone and tinny speakers. We found that it scans your Outlook address book for known phone numbers, that may or may not be useful, but they do work quite well; apparently your first call to a “real phone” is free. Internet to Internet calls are free all the time so it is very popular for people with families dispersed around the world. It will also do video calls (I don’t think we will bother), IM chat and SMS.

Finally a recommendation. Unless you want to restrict your calls to a few designated people, fill in at least the basic information into your profile. Think of it as a phone book. I would suggest the minimum is your real name, country and city. Then at least callers can have a sporting chance of getting the right person.

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