Skype launches Apple flavour

The nine million people using Skype's Internet telephony service will now be able to chat to Mac OS X users

Skype launched a version of its Internet telephony service for users of Apple computers on Tuesday, as it battles a growing number of competitors offering voice-over-IP (VoIP) products.

Skype for Mac OS X is only at the beta stage at present, and can be downloaded from www.skype.com.

"This is very significant," said a Skype spokesman on Tuesday. "It means Skype users can speak for free to other Skype users seamlessly across a wide range of platforms." Various versions of Skype already exist for the Windows, Linux, and Pocket PC operating systems. The company's SkypeOut service also lets users call telephone lines and mobiles, with prices starting at 1.7 euro cents (around 1p) per minute.

Skype says it has over nine million users worldwide, which puts it at the forefront of the fast-growing Internet telephony market. But it is facing plenty of competition, both from fellow start-ups and established telecoms providers.

In the UK, BT has launched its Communicator product, in partnership with Yahoo. It will allow users to make calls to other PCs for free or to landlines and mobiles for the standard BT rate -- which could be 5.5p for 59 minutes.

Andrew Burke, director of value added services at BT Retail, told ZDNet UK that Skype was "nowhere close" to BT Communicator when it comes to features -- a charge that Skype rejects.

The minimum requirements for BT Communicator include running a version of Microsoft Windows, but the telco was unsure on Tuesday whether it could be made to work on an Apple computer.

A full version of Skype for Mac OS X is expected before the end of this year, and the company is prepared to add features or make changes as a result of the beta trials.

"We direct our development by listening to the comments and requests from Skype users. We look forward to hearing from the Mac users, who are known to 'think different', about how we can continue to improve Skype," said Niklas Zennstrom, chief executive and co-founder of Skype, in a statement.

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