Yesterday Skype released Skype for Mac 5.0 Gold version, addressing many of the concerns raised in the beta version released three months ago. And, rest assured, Skype received lots of feedback about the new user interface experienced in the beta version and the disruption it caused to those long time fans of the previous version 2.8. While not addressing all the issues (such as my major one – see below) the 5.0 Gold release certainly has a more usable and less intrusive UI.
When I interviewed Skype’s Neil Stevens, Skype’s Vice President of Consumer Products, at CES three weeks ago he had given me a heads up that this release would be forthcoming shortly. But he also expressed two other goals for Skype’s Consumer Product development process:
- Work towards a more common User Interface across all the PC platforms: Windows, Mac and Linux
- Reduce the release cycle time between versions from 12 to 18 months down to two to three months to be more responsive to market needs and user feedback.
In my earlier post discussing the beta version I mentioned how Skype for Mac was moving in a similar direction towards the Skype for Windows 5.1 user interface. While not going all the way there, the Gold release does address some of the outstanding issues:
- the chat window can very easily be brought up at the bottom of the conversation pane and resized (addressing Dan York’s major issue with the beta)
- the Skype client window can be narrowed to take up less desktop real estate although it can almost get too narrow when the Contact Sidebar gradually disappears if narrowed down to the extreme
- reduction of white space in both the main conversation pane and sidebar (click on View | Compact Sidebar for the latter).
- more prominence to the Contact Monitor (View | Online Contacts – see below on left) where you can see who’s online by Group. (Although I’m still trying to figure out whether it’s viewable outside the Skype application.)
- restored full screen mode for video calls – probably the most requested feature restoration
- moved the dial pad up to the tool bar such that its availability becomes more readily apparent.
- on video calls, the caller’s window can not only be readily moved within the Conversation pane but also resized
- in the Call settings of preferences you can add a Skype watermark that is viewed when your cursor is not within the Conversation pane (actually it’s also faintly there behind the red “end call” button when the Call Status bar is visible).
Also Skype for Mac 5 includes support for Group Video calling for which there is a seven day trial available following which users must sign up for Skype Premium which also includes access to Live Chat support for Skype. (Note the discount for 3- and 12-month subscriptions.) Yes, it’s another potential revenue generator for Skype.
My initial observations – it’s all about the navigation and call management:
- At the bottom of the conversation window are four icons: toggle Contact Sidebar on/off, toggle chat session on/off, full screen video on/off and caller video window on/off. Very handy.
- The Call Status Bar at the top of the conversation screen still lacks the Call Quality Information feature of Skype for Windows 5.0. When I mentioned my previous recommendation about this to Neil he said to expect this feature to be incorporated into a future release. Once again, it is a most useful and handy tool for facilitating Skype calls in Skype for Windows.
- The floating Call Monitor bar, which appears when you are in an application other than Skype, remains a very useful feature. In this version double clicking on the “presence” icon returns you to the Skype client.
- While the DialPad has been moved to a more apparent position above the Conversation window, it also make more sense to have it appear on the Call Status Bar as well (as in Skype for Windows 5.x).
- One always wants to have “View | Compact Sidebar” set as I can see a Contact’s profile picture in the Conversation pane when I select the contact.
- There is more visibility, and therefor emphasis, for Groups due to their inclusion in the Contact Sidebar whereas accessing Groups in Skype for Windows requires an extra click from within the Contacts tab.
- Update Feb. 10, 2010. Support for H.264 is now included with Skype for Mac 5. This now allows calls between Skype for Mac and Skype for TV. There is still no support for the H.264 processor deployed on HD webcams and in Skype for TV clients. This also means one cannot make calls between Skype for Mac and any Skype for TV client as the latter requires H.264 support on the other party’s Skype client.
Bottom line: Skype for Mac 5.0 Gold certainly brings the Skype for Mac client closer to the Skype for Windows UI algorithm. It’s definitely easier to use than the beta. Also I have to admit my own bias in that I have come to the conclusion that the Skype for Windows algorithm is easier to manage and use than earlier versions of the Skype client. You basically have all your searchable conversation history for a contact in one “Conversation” window pane.
Whereas, unless someone was serious about providing beta feedback, I was not recommending that anyone upgrade to the beta, at this point I can readily recommend upgrading to Skype for Mac 5 Gold. There’s probably a bit of a navigation training exercise to go through but once you experience the algorithm, you’ll find it easier to manage and track your conversations. But also let’s hope we see a new version in 2 to 3 months addressing additional feature requests, such as the Call Quality Information feature.
And one Skype for Windows 5 feature that’s definitely missing: nary a sign of any Facebook integration.
Skype Journal’s Phil Wolff tracked “user sentiment” about the new version by following social networking and other feedback during launch day.
Finally, here’s the video from Skype for Mac Product Manager Krishna Panicker:
- Skype for Mac Leave Beta, Adds Premium Group Video Calling (readwriteweb.com)
- Skype 5 for Mac out of beta, group video calling part of Premium subscription (tuaw.com)
- Skype for Mac 5 Improves on Beta – Still Far From Perfect (newsgrange.com)
- Download: Skype for Mac 5.0 Gold (skypejournal.com)
- Skype 5.0 for Mac Exits Beta, Group Calling No Longer Free [VIDEO] (mashable.com)
- Skype 5.0 out of Beta, Group Video Chat Now Premium Feature (pcworld.com)