Hundreds of millions of people use Skype for its free voice over IP (VoIP) services every day. Indeed, Skype claims that in March 2012, 35-million people were all talking at the same time on the service. But, how many of them are going to stick with it when Microsoft, Skype's owner, sticks ads in your face?
Microsoft announced that "While on a 1:1 audio call, users will see content that could spark additional topics of conversation that are relevant to Skype users and highlight unique and local brand experiences. So, you should think of Conversation Ads as a way for Skype to generate fun interactivity between your circle of friends and family and the brands you care about." Oh yeah, I always like having an ad pop-up when I'm talking to a friend or co-worker.
These ads, which will use your location, age and sex to better target you, will appear on Skype for Windows if you don't have any Skype Credit or a Skype subscriptions while you're making 1:1 Skype-to-Skype audio calls. I'm sure it will also appear on the Mac version of well. For once, the neglect Skype has long given Linux will pay off for Linux users. Skype for Linux, which is still on version 2.2 beta while Windows is up to 5.8, isn't likely to get this "upgrade."
Microsoft has planning this for a while. In theory, not longer after Microsoft bought Skype, Skype was to get online advertising with version of 5.6 in September 2011 As far as I can tell though no such ads were ever placed.
Force of habit has kept people on Skype. With pop-up ads soon appearing during conversations, I think people will finally find themselves looking for another VoIP and video-conferencing service. There are my personal favorites:
Remember the TV show 24? Remember the really cool video-conferencing setup? That's Cisco TelePresence. If you want serious business replacement for Skype you want Cisco TelePresence. Free? Heck no! Cheap, not really. But, TelePresence is really, really good.
All the other services I'm going to mention don't have Telepresence's bells and whistles. On the other hand, they're either free or so close to being free as to make no difference.
Ekiga, formerly GnomeMeeting, is the best known Linux VoIP clients. It's also available on Windows. On either platform it works well. It's a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) standard a client, but it also supports the H.323 video-conferencing protocol. With H.323, you can use Ekiga with the older Microsoft NetMeeting and other SIP compatible conferencing program. I've found that to be a very handy feature over the years. Unfortunately, when Microsoft "upgraded" NetMeeting to Windows Meeting Space with Vista, they also broke its compatibility with Ekiga and other third-party programs. Still, if your colleagues are on Linux or XP, you're good to go.
If only FaceTime ran on more than just Macs and the rest of Apple's family, I'd like it a lot more. Even so, it's good, it's very, very good. True, it's not free, but at a price of 99 cents for the FaceTime client, it's not going to break anyone's bank.
What I find most annoying about FaceTime is that it could work with SIP-based programs such as Ekiga. Apple, as usual, chose to lock it down with proprietary extensions. Darn it!
Why use just a VoIP service, when you can replace all your phone needs with Google Voice? In a series of ZDNet articles David Gewirtz gives a complete how to for replacing your land line with Google Voice. As Gewirtz also wrote, you can also use Google Voice on your iPhone and other mobile phones.
OK, say you don't want to go that far; there are other excellent free alternatives from Google.
Google makes a thing a wee bit confusing when it comes to their communications offerings. Besides Google Voice, which is a personal private-branch exchange (PBX) when you get down to brass tacks, there's Google Chat, which is Google's IM service, and Google Talk, which is its VoIP and video service.
Unlike Skype, there's no client as such, except for Windows, for these services. Instead, Linux and Mac users need to install a Google Talk video and voice plug-in to their Web browsers. Once you have the plug-in though you can use the services from many Google pages. For example, I use it all the time from Gmail and Google Plus.
Speaking of Google Plus, there's also:
These are free video-conferences with up to nine people. You can also now broadcast or record these conferences for a world-wide audience. You can also do what I do sometimes and just use them as a quick way to have a one-on-one conversation. This is also a service you run directly from a Web browser. There's no need to download a client.
OOvoo is a combination VoIP, video-conferencing, and IM program that I like quite a lot even if it doesn't run on Linux. You can, however, run it on many Android phones, iPhones and iPod Touch devices, and Mac and Windows PCs. I also have to say that in my experience ooVoo delivers the best audio and video quality of all the free VoIP programs I've used. If you want a really good connection for cheap, you really want ooVoo.
You want to know what's the best thing about all these programs though? Well, besides being technically better and more secure? Not one of them shoves an ad in my face when I'm talking to a buddy. Check them out. Tell your friends about them. You may just be fine that you'll never, ever need to see a Skype ad.