Skype for Windows 8
Microsoft has given Skype a makeover for Windows 8. The new app has a beautiful full-screen interface that combines messaging, group chat and video calls all into one.
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When Microsoft bought Skype a year-and-a-half ago, the reasons were a little unclear. After all, the software giant already had similar communications software in its Windows Live Messenger network and enterprise-ready Lync service. Adding Skype to the mix seemed redundant.
With Skype for Windows 8, the fruits of that transaction are now coming into focus. With the new Skype, Microsoft has created a beautiful and intuitive general-consumer app that combines messaging, group chat and calls (video and audio, of course) into a single screen in the Windows 8-style interface (or whatever they're calling Metro these days).
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The best part of the Skype experience on Windows 8, is that it's always on. Even if you haven't launched the app, even if your PC is locked and even if you've specifically stopped the app from running -- you can still get calls. You control whether or not you're visible on the Skype network, keeping the potential for intrusive calls (or worse, spam) to a minimum.
Skype Meets Windows 8
Even though Skype has now merged with Windows 8 at the root, you still download it like any other app. Once installed, it takes up a large-size live tile by default, although you can shrink it if that's too much Skype real estate for you. Besides the Skype logo, you'll see incoming messages and alerts appear on the tile.
When you launch Skype, it's immediately apparent this version was tailor-made for Windows 8. Functions are neatly separated into sections along a horizontal scroll, the icons are square with little or no white space between them, and the "chrome" of the app is kept to an absolute minimum -- it's just a call button and your account icon.
Skype has pretty straightforward functionality, and that's served well by Windows 8's minimalist design. It's the prettiest Skype app I've ever seen, and its tiles are extremely touchable. If you've never played with Skype or customized it with things like a profile pic, this app will make you want to.
The first time you start it, you'll see a "Get More Out of Skype" prompt that takes you to your account page in Internet Explorer. In fact, if you tap "Account" on your icon, you're sent to IE as well. That's a little weird. I would expect at least some basic account management to be handled within the app; but as it stands, you can't even add funds to your account. (Helloooo! I'm waving money here, guys!)
The layout is well-thought out. Top priority, earning the leftmost position, is your most recent activity: active chats and recent calls. Like the Windows 7 app, the new Skype lets you create a list of favorite contacts, displaying those ones before everyone else.
Of course, the apps supports Snap, Windows 8's ability to shrink apps to a sidebar. This a great feature, letting you keep a call open and visible while you multitask with, say, an Excel spreadsheet or a browser window. When you're not on a call, the Snap window can also display an active chat, or just contact information.
The Call of Progress
You make and receive calls just like you always have with Skype, but with Windows 8, full-screen video is the default, of course. Although the calls still use the same peer-to-peer technology Skype built its company on, it's also backed by Microsoft's Windows Live network, which should theoretically improve its reliability.
I've only been using Skype for Windows 8 for a few days, so it's hard to say for sure, but the calls themselves were probably a bit more reliable than what I'm used to from Skype. Still, that's not saying a lot: The service has given me everything from stuttering video to robot voices to dropped calls in the past. Generally, I still find Apple's FaceTime to have the best call quality of all the major video-calling services.
However, FaceTime isn't a full calling-and-chatting service, whereas Skype is. Sending chat messages and IMs over Skype is as instantaneous as you expect, complete with push alerts. And, yes, you can turn those off, if you wish.
In summary, the new version is the best Skype app ever made. The interface is beyond intuitive and friendly -- it's downright alluring, and it made me regret not having more contacts with pretty avatars. Microsoft has made a real winner here.
If needed to, Skype, along with a handful of other apps, will serve as messengers for what Windows 8 is capable of. In fact, with its mainstream audience that tends to peak during the rapidly approaching holiday season, Skype will probably have more influence over how people respond to the new OS than most other Windows 8 apps, save for Office and Internet Explorer.
And It's up for the job. The new Skype shines brightly as a beacon for how good Windows 8 apps can be, and it's a must-download for anyone buying a new PC.
This story originally published on Mashable here.