About two weeks ago Skype launched a new type of beta … one that actually will end at some point in the reasonably near future but that is also a major effort to incorporate user feedback while trialing some new concepts. As mentioned in my previous posts about this beta, this is not a replacement for your current Skype 3.8 or earlier installation in mission critical situations but rather Skype wants to trial this version with a broader audience than simply their very dedicated set of designated outside beta testers worldwide.
On Monday Skype’s Product Manager for Windows, Mike Bartlett put out a post, 10 days later …, commenting on the first ten days of feedback from users. (I’m a little late on following up on this as I’m supposed to be on vacation this week.) To quote Mike:
We’ve had some very positive feedback from a lot of people on the new way of working, and that’s encouraging as it seems we’re starting to solve the problems that we set out to solve. However, it’s very understandable some of you used to using Skype on a regular basis have been a bit frustrated about not being able to work with Skype the way they are used to.
- In beta 2 they will introduce a “Compact” mode where users can access their main Skype activity through a a more traditionally sized window that does not take a large portion of the user’s desktop. From my own experience I like the ability to detach conversations into separate windows, if desired; however, the right side “pane” left over when there is no focus on a Conversation, is wasted desktop space. Perhaps a sliding window pane addition, much like the one that comes with the JWire Hotspot Finder, would be more appropriate. In this case when you focus on a Conversation listed under the Conversations tab but not already open in a detached window or initiate a new conversation with a Contact , the wider conversation pane would slide out and become detachable, if desired. And using this feature should be a user selected option. On the other hand I find the new Conversations tab feature in the left pane to be very useful (a concept apparently adopted from the current Skype for Mac) for readily accessing my conversations with individual contacts..
- One of the primary issues Skype wants to address is how the video is displayed in a more user friendly, more obvious, yet flexible manner. Basically Mike describes ways to both detach and resize the video in the current beta but also mentions we can expect further enhancements in beta 2. From my own personal experience, Skype video looks best in a minimum 640 x 480 window (available with Skype 3.6 and later) due to its clarity and video quality but with Skype 4.0 beta, as a user, you can determine your own optimum video window size and detach a video session into a separate resizable video window.
- And for all those frustrated Skype for Mac users out there, expect something later this summer that incorporates feedback from the Skype for Windows beta experience.
One question: does the appearance of the “Add people” button in the detached video window (see Mike’s post) foretell a future beta that incorporates multi-party video?
Yes, there are still many “details” being suggested; I’m sure Mike’s team is looking at them all and especially looking for commonality amongst the many users providing feedback. We have to give credit to Mike and his team for introducing as a trial such a radical UI change to try out with the wider user community. If nothing else, it has demonstrated the passion and enthusiasm of the Skype user community while providing an opportunity for receiving back their input.
As I have said repeatedly, this is a beta; it’s not for any of your mission critical Skype installations as it still lacks some features of the released Skype 3.8. But it’s certainly worthwhile installing it on a secondary PC, trying out the various features available and providing feedback.
Once again, this is a beta — it’s not the final released version — changes, incorporating where feasible and practical the consensus of Skype’s user base, will happen. On the other hand, as one who has administered software beta programs in the past when “beta” meant truly trying new concepts while getting user feedback over a limited time period, Skype is running a true beta program for Skype 4.0, not an “infinite” beta as seems to have become the norm for many web services providers these days. Apparently we can expect a second beta release towards the end of the summer, with the objective of a final release later this fall.