Skype 1.4 Rolls Out the Door

by Colin C. Haley

While Skype execs were negotiating a blockbuster sale, its developers were hard at work. What's new?

While Skype executives were busy negotiating eBay's blockbuster deal to buy the VoIP company, its developers were enhancing Voice over IP software in the lab.

The Luxembourg-based company today announced Skype for Windows 1.4, which boasts better sound quality and new features aimed at improving callers' experience -- and Skype's money-making potential.

The offering, code-named Aviator, has been in beta testing since August and is now available to the general public through Skype's Web site. It comes as VoIP moves toward the mainstream and telecom carriers, cable operators, Internet giants and startups alike plot their strategies.

"There is something in this release for both hard-core and new Skype users," Saul Klein, Skype's vice president of marketing, told internetnews.com.

A new call-forwarding option should help the company move beyond the desktop. It allows users to send their incoming calls to another Skype name (for free) or to up to three mobile or landline numbers (for a small fee).

In addition, Skype has partnered with American Greetings, Qpass and Wee World to add personalization tools. Users can download original pictures, sounds and ringtones starting at $1.20 each.

Skype is optimistic about the prospects, citing research from Arc Group that predicts that the global ringtone market will grow to $5.2 billion in 2006.

The two-year-old company expects strong demand for these features, especially among teens and users in Asia who are early adopters of such personalization technologies.

Skype is amassing 170,000 new registered users per week, about 20,000 more than before its acquisition by eBay was announced. But the company, which recently passed the 56 million user mark, is still looking to lure new users by making the product easier to install and use.

The Skype Web site now includes a new "Getting Started Wizard," which claims to make set-up a three-minute process. In addition, Skype for Windows 1.4 is more compatible than ever with Microsoft's most popular desktop applications.

Users can import personal contacts from Outlook directly into their buddy lists. And a Skype toolbar allows for one-click calling to numbers and Skype names from Internet Explorer and Outlook.

Finally, Advanced Skype buttons allow Web site owners and bloggers to create links that instantly initiate Skype actions, such as conference calls and chats.

"Even two weeks after [this] major transaction, it's very much business as usual here," Skype's Klein said.

This article was originally published on Thursday Sep 29th 2005