Skype takes group video chat out of beta

Voice-over-IP developer Skype says that its latest client for the Mac is now out of beta and officially available for download as a fully-supported product.

With the latest release, Skype has made some changes to its software in response to customer feedback and is also packaging some functionality into a “premium” pricing tier.

Let’s start with the good news first. The official “Gold” version of Skype 5.0 clocks in at just below 20MB and features a number of minor changes compared to its beta cousin. In particular, the developer has reduced the minimum size of the application’s window so that it takes up less space on the screen; according to a blog post posted on the Skype Website, the company made this move in response to requests from the users during the beta period.

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Together with the minor changes, Skype 5.0 officially introduces a few major features that have been part of the beta for some time. First is the new call bar, a tiny and unobtrusive window that sits at the top of your screen at all times when you are outside Skype. The call bar helps you keep track of your calls and perform simple operations like hanging up or adding video to an ongoing audio conversation while you’re doing other things on your computer without having to switch back to Skype.

The second feature is group video calling, which allows multiple Skype users–regardless of which operating system their computers run–to come together in a video conference call. Group video calling is capable of supporting up to ten participants, as long as each has an Internet connection capable of at least 4Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream bandwidth. The company, however, recommends a maximum of five concurrent users for best results.

Now for the bad news: as previously announced, the new group video chat feature is no longer free and will, instead, be offered as part of a “premium” package that also includes live customer support via chat. The package can be had for $5 for a day pass, or $9 for a monthly pass; Skype is also offering discounted three- and 12-month rates for a limited time. Only one user on a conference call needs to be a premium package holder in order for the entire group to participate in a video chat.

Skype 5.0 requires a an Intel Mac with a processor running at 1GHz or higher, OS X 10.5.8, and 100MB of free hard disk space.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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