Yesterday Skype launched Skype 5.5 beta for Windows whose main feature is deeper Facebook integration. But there were some other changes as well:
- changed Call Bar and the call control icons
- improved video calling reliability
- Changed group conversations profile area design
- New login window design
- Added a ability to start video calls via URI
- addressed several bug fixes
On the download page Skype does remind us:
Over the past few hours I have done some exploring and have noted:
The most obvious change is the new Facebook tab in the Contacts (left) pane. Only the selected tab shows the full name, such as “Facebook”; in this case the left icon represents “All Contacts” while the right icon represents “Recent” … showing recent contacts going backwards in time.
What changes is what occurs when you start to type a name into the Search bar; the Search bar finds all the Skype and Facebook contacts. In this case the top Contact shown is the Skype contact, while the second one is the Facebook contact. And the tabs themselves only show the three icons. But what happens when you go to the Facebook Contact?
Whereas from the Skype Contact you can call the Contact’s Skype account and any PSTN phone numbers on the Contact’s Skype Profile (or that you have manually entered locally into the Contact’s information), from the Facebook Contact you can only call any PSTN phone numbers in the Contacts Facebook profile. However, there is no way to add people or share files during a call even though the greyed-out buttons show up at the top of the Conversation pane. But the ability to call a Facebook contact on a mobile or landline number is one approach to encourage SkypeOut usage … using either a Skype Calling Plan or Skype Credit.
Here’s where it gets confusing: when you send a chat message to the Facebook contact (which goes to the other party’s Facebook chat and, if s/he is also a Skype contact, Skype chat) you set up one “Contact” in the Recent tabs. Then send a chat message directly to his/her Skype account, another “Contact” is set up in the Recent tab. But there is no way to differentiate the two; this is an issue that Skype is addressing in a future release (whether beta or final).
Messages sent from the Facebook Contact go to both the Contact’s Facebook chat window and the recipient’s Facebook chat pane in Skype. But not to the Contact’s Skype chat conversation, as expected. Bottom line is that Facebook Chat sessions and Skype chat sessions are independent. However, this feature is sufficient to eliminate the need for my Contact here to use Pidgeon to follow both Skype and Facebook chat sessions … one less client to take up desktop real estate (and CPU cycles).
There is an option to disable the Facebook Contacts tab; simply go to “Contacts | Hide Facebook Contacts.
The Facebook Wall Tab
The other major Facebook feature is the Facebook Wall tab:
- Enter a message to post to both your Skype Mood Message and, optionally, your Facebook wall
- Select whether you wish to view only the News feed from All your Facebook friends or simply those who are also Skype Contacts. (Alerts brings up Skype alerts such as subscription confirmations)
- Scroll over a Contact’s name to bring up the Call button from which you can launch either a Skype call or a SkypeOut call to the Contact.
- The small heart and cartoon bubble icons allow Facebook “Like” and Facebook “Comment” activity.
It’s optional as to whether you want to use the Facebook features; you need to log in to Facebook and do the usual “Facebook Connect” approval to get started; it’s not a default setting in Skype. If you want to log out of the Facebook connection, hit that little blue gear at the extreme middle right on the Facebook Wall.
As I have over 250 Facebook “Friends” and over 500 Skype Contacts it took several minutes after logging into Facebook for the information to be synchronized and the Facebook News feed to appear.
Bottom line: Will I continue to use this? That will depend on how critical it becomes to my overall core Skype activity.
- For those who may be using a multi-IM service for chatting with both Facebook and Skype contacts, it is probably a benefit as they need to only chat through their Skype client.
- If I can contact my Skype contacts through Skype, do I really need another set of “the same” contacts to make voice calls via their Facebook information? Only if they have not entered PSTN numbers available in their Facebook profile but not in their Skype profile.
- Does the Facebook activity slow down my Skype activity? Only some experience will tell.
- The option is there to Hide Facebook links or even log out of your Facebook account authentication, should you find the feature of minimal use.
Remember, it’s beta; the good news about Skype for Windows betas is that they usually continues to offer the standard Skype voice, video and chat features reliably. It’s really the new features for which Skype wants feedback on the user experience.
In the next post I’ll talk about the changes to the call bar and its “control” icons.
And meanwhile we wait to see if Skype for Mac 5.thenext can bring some consistency with the Skype for Windows User Interface.