Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Downloading and Installing Skype

To download Skype, visit www.skype.com in Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) and click on the Download menu item at the top of the home page. This displays the Download Skype page. Click on the link for the Windows platform, which takes you to the download page specifically for Skype for Windows. Next, click on the Get it now button, which displays a page with helpful step-by-step instructions. Click on the Download button, which will then display the popup window shown in the following figure. This popup gives you three ways to proceed:
Run, Save, or Cancel. The third option, Cancel, is fairly obvious in that it cancels the download process. Run and Save can both be used to run the Skype setup program, but they do so in different ways, which I explain in the following sections.
Before downloading and installing the Skype softphone, you might want to familiarize yourself with the user interface—the look and feel of the Skype softphone. That way, when you run Skype, you will already know how to do some basic things with it. Check out the screenshots of the Skype softphone at www.skype.com/download/screenshots.html. Also, look at the online user guides for Skype at www.skype.com/help/guides.

Internet Requirement for Skype Connection

Skype can work with a fast dial-up Internet connection over a telephone line in a pinch, but don’t expect much in the way of quality. For practical day-to-day use, you have to have a broadband connection to the Internet, such as that provided through cable or DSL. To get the most out of Skype, there are two characteristics of your broadband Internet connection that you must pay attention to:
  • Bandwidth, measured in bits per second, is a measure of the rate at which data can be transmitted over the connection. The higher the bandwidth, the better your Skype experience will be, as your voice will be clearer during a call.
  • Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay between when
you start speaking during a call and when the person at the other end hears your words. If this delay is too long, say, more than half a second, the other person might start talking back to you before you are done talking. A long latency means that conversations will be stuttering and awkward, as each person runs the risk of talking over the other. The shorter your latency, the better will be your Skype experience.
Most cable and DSL Internet connections are asymmetric in the sense that the rate at which you can send data is different from the rate at which you can receive data. That is, the bandwidth in each direction is asymmetric. Normally the rate at which you can send data is substantially less than the rate at which you can receive data. From Skype’s point of view, the overall quality of a voice call over the Internet will be limited by the minimum of the two bandwidths in either direction: send or receive.
To find out the bandwidth and latency for your Internet connection visit www.numion.com and click on the YourSpeed link, then click on the Quickstart link. This will run a test that will tell you your bandwidth for both send and receive, and tell you the latency for your Internet connection. For a good experience with Skype, you will need a bandwidth of at least 128 Kbps for both send and receive, and a latency less than 500 milliseconds (that is, a latency less than half a second).

Skype Alternatives

Skype isn’t the only Internet-telephony game in town! Even though this book is primarily about Skype, you should also know that there are other Internet-telephony providers that are even cheaper than Skype for some types of call. For example, VoIP Buster offers free calls to regular landline phone numbers in the following countries: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, and Venezuela. In addition, you can even get a free regular dial-in phone number for select countries. Check the VoIP Buster website, www.voipbuster.com, for details and restrictions.
You might also want to check out some of the other alternatives to Skype shown in the following table. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a starting point for you to shop around for the best deal—and best features—in Internet telephony.