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Videophoning from a new source.

By Rob Pegoraro We don't have jet packs, flying cars or food pills, but the videophone has finally come home.It comes from an eBay subsidiary called Skype, an online service that provides Internet video communication, as well as Internet phone service and instant messenger style-chat.While most of the major instant-messaging services allow online video chats, none of them does it quite as well as Skype.Skype's software is a free download; add a Web camera and a reasonably fast broadband connection, and you can make video calls for free to any other Skype user.You won't be looking at anything close to high-definition video: Skype video is closer to the grainy, blurry, slo-mo "tank cam" footage that chronicled the opening of the war in Iraq on television. But these video chats are good enough for most everyday uses.The company offers software for both Macs and PCs, an important consideration given how most of Apple's computers now include built-in webcams. It also provides Linux and Windows Mobile versions, but those are voice- and text-only, without video support.And Skype is a quick download. Once up and running, you don't have to stare past blinking banner ads or pop-up Web pages.All you see is a simple window listing the people in your address book, plus a separate one for the current call or videoconference. Like other video-chat software, Skype's video window will display a thumbnail view of what your own camera sees; you can also enlarge the video window to full-screen mode.So how can Skype afford to give away all these communications services?First, it's owned by eBay, which bought it in 2005 and rakes in enough cash to use bundles of $100 bills for kindling if it wanted.Second, Skype sells a variety of add-on services, such as international calling and the ability to receive incoming calls from land-line phones. Third, it doesn't have to run a massive centralized network to orchestrate all this communication. Skype relies on the same peer-to-peer networking technology used to run most file-sharing services. All of its calls and chats are relayed among the computers of individual Skype users, bouncing from your machine to the other person's by the most direct possible path.That approach also helps Skype work through the firewall systems protecting office networks. Its one major downside: Skype will consume some bandwidth even when you're not calling anybody, which could get you in trouble if your connection comes with any sort of usage quota.In designing Skype's peer-to-peer networking, its developers built on their experience creating the Kazaa file-sharing program, which they no longer own. I would never use Skype as a primary means of communication. Skype's Web site bluntly states that it "is not a telephony replacement service and cannot be used for emergency dialing." But as a free video and cheap long-distance option, it's an excellent fit. The weird thing is how this little company has been doing so well in this market, even though so many other firms. A*Videophoning from a new source

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:Dec 6, 2006
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