First, go to the Skype site, download their software and install it on your computer (Mac or Windows). (Story links open in new windows)
Now – assuming you have a sound card, microphone and speakers – you can make a voice call to any other computer with Skype installed. And you can conference up to four people at a time.
Sound quality is far better than the phone system, although you sometimes get brief-but-slightly-noticeable network dropouts.
For me, though, the best part may be Skype Out – this allows you to call land line and mobile phones from your computer, but this isn’t quite free.
For about 2 cents US (€ 0.017) per minute, you can call land line phones in the US, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and Chile under the SkypeOut Global Rate (calls to mobile phones cost more).
Per-minute costs for other locations vary: Mexico is € 0.080 (except Mexico City which is the same as the US – 2 cents), Iraq € 0.302, Israel € 0.026 (Israel mobile € 0.091), Beijing € 0.022 – it’s a steal.
I did have a problem before signing up.
Initially, they wanted me to send a whole bunch of ID plus € 10 to a bank in Europe. With the state of identity theft as it is, I declined. Instead, I – and many others, I would think – whined and suggested they add PayPal to their payment methods.
They now accept PayPal and I’m live.
The other problem I had was a bit of feedback from my computer speakers to the microphone. This generated an echoey sound. I used headphones to get around this. I also understand that mics built into computers generally sound fine, but "your mileage may vary."
This may sound like a Skype commercial, but I swear I have no ties, neither personal nor professional, to Skype or anyone there.
I’m just jazzed.