Wednesday, November 9, 2011

14 Ways to Make Skype Rock

Oh, Skype. We have you to thank for transforming thousands, of not hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people into cheapskates. I say that lovingly, for I, too, dream of a day when I can forever free myself from the confines of a monthly cell phone plan and run into the loving, warm embrace of no-monthly-cost, Skype-based chatting…
Okay, so maybe that’s a bit overdramatic. But it would be silly to think that Skype hasn’t radically transformed the way a lot of people go about their daily lives. In fact, some people do indeed subsist on this service, and this service alone, for all of their phone-based needs. And many more people use Skype to conduct business; to make podcasts; to call loved ones from afar, as is the case with Maximum PC dream date winner Magali and her French family.
In short, Skype is kind of a big deal. You know it, I know it, but… the one thing that you likely don’t know off the top of your head is all the different ways you can maximize your VoIP-chatting experience through the use of third-party Skype add-ons, software tweaks, and more! That’s what we’ll be covering in this comprehensive tips guide: Making Skype awesome.
Let’s get started!

Use Your Minutes, Stupid!

It seems obvious, but we’ll get the most important tip out of the way up-front: Do not ignore Skype. Don’t ignore the client after you’ve just plunked down your credit card for the service’s Skype Credits (which, of course, allow one to make phone calls from PC to phone). And don’t ignore emails that Skype sends you.
Skype isn’t just going to let you keep your paid-for time in perpetuity. No, after 180 days of non-use, the company will invalidate any Credits you’ve purchased on your account. Stinks, huh? Make sure you heed Skype’s warning messages and place a call—any duration of a call—when asked to do so, and you won’t lose your cash, credits, or temper.

Set Up Sound Selections

Skype isn’t that complicated to use—at least, not nearly as complicated as your average soundboard or, perhaps, even the Windows volume controls themselves. However, it’s worth your while to test out your call and microphone volumes before you blow someone’s ears out with a cacophony of sound.
First off, place a test call using the lovely link likely located right in your Skype contacts window (or just dial up user name: echo123). How’s it sound? If you want to make changes, fire up Skype’s options panel via the Tools menu, then select Audio Settings on the left. Uncheck the options to allow Skype to automatically adjust your volume settings and, instead, pick something that’s more to your liking.
And a side bonus: If you have more than one pair of speakers attached to your computer for whatever reason (or, say, headphones), you can use the “Ringing” drop-down menu to select where incoming Skype rings should play.

Stop Bugging Me

As you begin your travels through Skype, you might notice little notifications popping up in the lower-right corner of your desktop. That’s normal—you can tweak the reasons why Skype needs to tell you something within the “Notifications” section of the options window.
One thing you might not know about, however—the annoying advertisements and information boxes that Skype slaps onto the bottom of its main window can be eliminated in a similar fashion as well. Click on the “Alerts & Messages” sub-menu below the “Notifications” section on your options panel, then uncheck both “Help and Skype Tips” and “Promotions.” I hate promotions, don’t you?

Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

Did you know that you can perform a few Skype functions—like answering a call—without even having to move your hand to your system’s mouse or trackpad? Yes, Virginia, Skype has built-in hotkey functionality buried within its options panel as well. And unfortunately for novice users, these helpful timesavers aren’t enabled by default within the program.
Hit up the “Advanced” menu in your options panel and select the “Hotkeys” submenu. Clicking on the appropriate box to turn said hotkeys on will allow you to now answer calls, ignore calls, and hang up—amongst other tasks—by mashing a configurable combination of keys on your keyboard.

Control Your Contacts

Alright, Mr. or Miss popular. If you’ve just spent the last 10 minutes adding all of your friends as Skype contacts (hint: Contacts Menu > Import Contacts), you’re going to rip your hair out at your person-packed list of people you can call via the main Skype screen.
Thankfully, someone at good ol’ Skype HQ decided to build categories into the program, which you can use to segment your “buddy list,” as it were, into whatever classifications you want. Click on the drop-down arrow of the “All Contacts” menu on your main Skype screen, then select “Create New Category.” Give it a witty name, then drag-and-drop your friends into this new listing. You can pull it up the same way you created it—via the handy drop-down menu above your contacts list.

Record Thyself

If you’re decently familiar with Skype, then surely you’ve heard of Pamela—a paid-for application that allows you to record your Skype calls as easy as it is to click a button. If you’re an interviewer, or just plain devious, it’s one of the best solutions we’ve found for transforming a chit-chat into an editable MP3.
But… it costs money. So, barring that, check out MP3 Skype Recorder instead. As the name implies, this free app allows you to record Skype calls of any length—either automatically or manually—and output said conversations as compressed MP3 files. Take that, spending money.

Pack In Some Add-Ons

Did you know that Skype comes with its own repository of add-ons, analogous to the browser extensions you can install in an app like Mozilla’s Firefox or Google’s Chrome? Yep. They’re called “Skype Extras,” and it would take us another article and a half to describe all of the cool-slash-useful stuff you can find within Skype’s official repository of plugins.
Just point your browser over to good ol’ and get surfing. The extras are not only sorted by category but, if you’re really lazy, you can also arrange them by upload date and popularity—the latter’s perfect if you just want the best-in-class add-ons as chosen by your peers right now.

Go Portable

So you have Skype installed on your system. Great. Now what if you want to try and call one of your friends from your locked-down work PC? Or, for that matter, any system you have physical access too? What if, for whatever reason, you can’t install Skype?
Simple—grab a thumbdrive and bring it with you. The steps are a bit complicated, but MakeUseOfhas an excellent write-up of how you can transform your normal Skype executable into a portable program. Who needs a cell phone when you can have Skype on a stick?

One Free Skype Number, Coming Up!

Provided it still works once you read this, the Web service Ring2Skype is an excellent way to essentially bypass the fees that Skype would normally charge you to have a dedicated phone number. In a nutshell, a dedicated Skype number—otherwise known as an Online Number—allows anyone in the world to dial you up directly to your PC. Their call goes through on their phones; you receive the rings on your Skype client.
Ring2Skype essentially gives you a number with a unique extension—when your friends dial that up, the service will route the call to your normal Skype user ID. Simple as that.

Pidgin Integration

If you’re a fan of Pidgin—and who isn’t—then know that you can indeed integrate this multipurpose desktop instant messaging client with your existing Skype client. I warn you—it’s not a seamless method by any means. You’ll still have to have Skype actually open and running on your system in order to have your friends show up in your Pidgin list. You can thank the closed-source Skype for that.
However, the Skype API Plugin presents small prices to pay if you’re the kind of person who likes mashing his or her contacts into a single, unified list. We do.

A Web-Based Skype?

Remember that tip we gave you about making Skype portable using a USB key? What if you don’t have (or don’t want to use) a USB key? Okay. Check out the service, which presents you a super-awesome collection of messaging services that you can sign into via one unified web portal.
Seriously. The service integrates perfectly with Skype, in that you can still access all the contacts on your account, send them messages and, most importantly, pull up video and voice chats at the touch of a button. We didn’t believe it ourselves at first, but truly is the go-to solution for when you need to make a call on the run! Er, with your PC, that is.

Automatic Answering

Hello! Your friend calling! Nobody likes the monotonous task of actually having to answer the phone, be it physical or digital. But, thankfully, we have a solution for the latter when it comes to Skype. Using the useful plugin Skypeautoanswer, you can set up lists of friends with which you’d like to grant the awesome functionality present in this plugin’s name.
Add a buddy to your auto-answer list, and Skype will do just that: Pick up the phone or, if you prefer, initiate a video chat with a person as soon as the app detects that said person is ringing you up. Clever users take note: This is the perfect add-on if you just want to dial up your home PC and check out what’s happening via your webcam! It’s also a great way to show your friends just how much you care.

Super-Specific Friend Notifications

Oh, shoot, your boss just put his or her Skype status to “away.” Time to fire up Reddit, eh? The handy add-on VoiceGear Contact Alerter does just that—it will pop up a notification whenever any friends you’ve targeted changes their online status to any, well, status you want to configure the app for.
Confused? It’s as easy as my not-so-funny explanation. The second a contact changes to, say, “away,” or “N/A,” or “offline,” the add-on will immediately let you know of the switch via a sound and/or a custom message that you can set for each individual contact. You can also send messages to said friends the moment their status changes to a particular item—as soon as Nathan logs on, let him know that he still owes you $10 for that pizza.

Skype Up Firefox, Chrome, and IE

Integrating Skype into your Web browser isn’t that difficult. However, if you try to look for a specific Skype extension within the standard Google or Firefox add-on repositories, you’ll be sorely disappointed. That’s because Skype’s shuffled away its one-plugin-fits-all add-on onto its own site, and the name of said tool is, “Click and Call.”
Install it, and you’ll be able to instantly click on any discernable phone number you find on the Web and call it via your Skype account. The add-on will even notify you if a particular number requires actual Skype credits or subscriptions to dial up. Simple, easy, efficient—just hard to find at first!


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