Skype for Mac 5: Returning to Ecstasy – Step 1 – Consistency

For over a year the author has been a keen user of Skype for Windows 5 as a Skype client that has simplicity, yet flexibility. It’s easy to manage contacts, follow conversations, handle video calls as well as archive and search conversation history. Yet, with the release of Skype for Mac 5, there has been a “Skype for Mac 5” fever outbreak on the Internet due to its lack of consistency with these features. Bottom line is that users are confused and, in many cases have gone back to Skype for Mac 2.8. The rash of posts reminds me of a famous comedy routine asking “Who’s on first, What’s on second and I Don’t Know on third” (read down the post for an explanation). On the other hand the Skype for Mac team says they are listening.

It is obvious from personal enquiries and blog posts that Mac users have not experienced Skype for Windows 5 and why it has become so readily accepted after some initial feedback from beta versions and even previous “Gold” versions. The irony here is that, whether intentional or not, Skype for Windows 5 subtly incorporated some of the widely acclaimed  User Interface features of Skype for Mac 2.8.

Behind all this, Phil Wolff, in How to keep & maintain an online relationship tip #1 (Skype!), points out how deeply Skype has penetrated our psyche:

First, Skype is just assumed. It is not novel, special, or difficult. It’s just there, like it’s always been. How could you not Skype? More than seven years after launch, Skype is part of American [Ed. worldwide] youth culture. Like tuxedo nail polish art.

In this post I want to point out where some key terminology needs to aligned so that a couple of terms used in Skype for Mac 5 is consistent with the terms already used in Skype for Windows 5. Keep in mind that in Skype for Windows 5 there are two underlying panes, each with a consistent purpose:

  • Contacts on the left: add them, manage them, organize them, select whom you want to converse with and open the relevant conversation pane.
  • Conversations on the right: it’s about content! Chat sessions, call detail records for voice and video calls, file transfer information, when did it happen? over what time period. Even the Facebook feature puts conversation content into the same pane. And if you select your own name at the top of the Contacts pane you deal with your own personal “content”.

Compact View

In his  Ignore the Code post, Skype 5 for Mac, Lukas Mathis provided an example where he was able to follow eight separate chat conversations in one Mac desktop. When he wants to deal with Skype he simply switches to his “Skype” desktop and picks up on the relevant conversations – switching desktops is unique to the Mac OS/X:



Skype for Windows has a Default View where the Contacts pane and Conversation pane are side-by-side in one window. However, after a wave of initial user feedback, it quickly incorporated a “Compact View” where conversations could be broken out into separate windows with the following result for an eight window scenario:

Eight Windows.S4W5_2.PW.600px

One window for managing Contacts, three containing group discussions, one window for the dialpad (more on that in another post) and three conversation sessions with individuals. However, one advantage of Mac OS/X is the ability to have up to four “desktops”. As a result there is the potential to keep these windows open on one Mac desktop and have them readily accessible by using the Mac OS/X features for switching desktops.

Because I personally find it easier to manage conversations in my activities, I now prefer the Default View; however, users have a choice; choice has won over acceptance.

But “Compact View” in the current Skype for Mac 5 simply removes the Contacts’ Profile Pictures from the list of Contacts in the left pane; frankly, it’s useful only because I want to optimize real estate and maximize the number of Contacts I see in the left pane. And forget about the “Cover Roll” view; I find no reason or utility for it other than aesthetics.

Anti-biotic recommendation One: Incorporate the flexibility to have either a single “Contacts/Conversation” pane or a “Compact View” similar to Skype for Windows 5 where the Contacts pane is accompanied by multiple individual conversation panes, such that Lukas could keep his “Skype” desktop. And use the term “Compact View” for this option on both platforms.

Groups and Categories

When Skype launched Skype 4.0 for Windows it changed the definition of Contact Groups (“Groups”) and introduced a new term: “Contact Categories” (“Categories”). Basically a Group is comprised of all the Contacts participating in a Group Chat or Group Voice call (multi-party call). A Group is created in the Conversation Pane either by dragging Contacts into the blue header of a Conversation pane or using the “Add People” button in the Conversation pane call bar. Once created, a Group can be added as a Contact in the Contact pane’s list.


S4W5.CategoriesContact Categories, associated with the Contacts pane only, are subsets of Contacts that can be categorized by some common interest. Basically by selecting a Category from the Contacts (or left) tab in the Conversation pane you only see those Contacts within the Category – a great tool when you have over, say, 50 Contacts and the Categories only include those for whom there is a common association.

The issue with Skype for Mac 5 is that what are Categories in Skype for Windows 5 are still called Groups in Skype for Mac 5. And, with Skype for Mac 5.1 the Groups are listed across the top of the Conversation side of the client. Also I can find no way to create a Group in Skype for Mac 5.1; fortunately adding a new Category in Skype for Windows 5 is reflected in the “Groups” of Skype for Mac 5.

Anti-biotic recommendation 2: Incorporate the Skype for Windows 5 algorithms for identifying and managing Categories and Groups into Skype for Mac 5. Use the left (“Contacts”) pane only for all management of Contacts, including Categories. And introduce a “Create Contact Categories” feature.

Managing “Who’s on First”

(Apologies to non-North Americans who have not heard the Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s On First” routine; it’s a word play parody incorporating baseball analogies.)

ContactTabsIn Skype for Windows 5, near the top of the Contacts pane are two “tabs”: on the left one for selecting Categories as defined above; on the other a tab called , simply – and appropriately – “Recent”. It builds a Contact timeline, going backwards, of those Contacts with whom a user has had her/his most recent conversations. The latter reflects Phil’s statement:

In my own experience Skype weighs fresh conversations more heavily than other factors.

Select a Contact under either tab and the Conversation pane opens up with a chat window and button bar from which a conversation with that Contact (or Group Contact) may be launched or continued. Note that there is also a Search window where a user can quickly find a Contact when the Contact list gets too long to appear within the length of the Contacts pane; a feature I find very helpful.

S4M5.Eh_.120pxBut one might as well watch “Who’s On First” to get a flavor for the confusion created in Skype for Mac 5. Contacts and “Recent” Contacts are not readily separated or categorized. In fact, if you want to see the Contacts in a Group …  woops Category … you need to click on a a Group (Category) name in the right pane and the Contacts are listed in what should only contain conversation content.

Anti-biotic recommendation 3: Incorporate the Categories tab, Recent tab and Search window that is seen in Skype for Windows 5. If there are any “Mac”-unique quirks associated with doing this, such as a floating Contact Monitor, incorporate them as an enhancement but keep consistency with the basics as a starting point.

Bottom line: Not only should Skype for Mac have the same feature set as Skype for Windows, as often  promoted by Dan York, but also the user interface and associated terminology should be similar such that a user going from one platform to the other can just continue to use Skype in a manner totally transparent to the user. On the other hand, let the Skype for Mac team innovate through enhancements that take advantage of features of Mac OS/X where feasible and reasonable.

Other posts in this series:

Other views on this issue:

And, for those design masters: enter the Mac chat style competition; competition announcement

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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