For years, my sister and others have tried to get me to install various “voice chat” programs that would allow us to converse via Internet connection. And for years I’ve been too lazy to set up the tedious firewall rules that would lead to success with those programs, or too cautious to simply open up a machine to the outside network.
Enter Skype. This is a freeware program that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms. (Haven’t checked for FreeBSD compatibility yet.) Skype is a peer-to-peer (P2P) voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) program. I think that there have to be some “helper” servers that Skype initially connects to in order to find out who is online and to make the initial connections between two peers, but I can’t confirm that. What I can confirm is that Skype works across my firewall, without the tedious drudgery of setting up specific rules for it.
I had a nice half-hour conversation this morning with Jeff Shallit using Skype. Jeff lives in Waterloo, Canada, and I live in Concord, California. Not even weekend minutes on my cell phone help much with the international calling and rates. The quality of the sound is pretty good. I’m trying to figure out how to accomplish “podcasting” using Skype and Audacity without shelling out the bucks for Virtual Cable. One caveat: both parties have to either use headsets or otherwise prevent the amplified sound from the conversation to go back to the microphone on either end. If that happens, you’ll get an annoying echo of the conversation.
For those people who you cannot convince to get Skype, you can use SkypeOut, which allows you to call a regular telephone anywhere in the world. That service does cost you money, starting at 0.017 Euros per minute to much of the English-speaking world (including the contiguous US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand).
If you like talking as well as typing, stop your IM client long enough to go to Skype.com and download the appropriate file for your computer.