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Skype 4.0 to be the subject of tomorrow's Squawk Box...

Skype 4.0 seriously disrupts the Skype UI - is this a good thing?

skype_logo.pngWill Skype's new Skype 4.0 user interface simplify the experience and brings in masses of new users? Or will it annoy and alienate the longtime (and often paying) users of Skype?

As a Mac user perpetually left behind in Skype's development process, I can't personally report on the new 4.0 beta which is Windows-only and apparently due out tomorrow, but reports are starting to come out... TechCrunch says "Skype 4.0 Beta: It's All About Video" and Andy Abramson discusses how this might allow future video advertising (and how Skype needs a CTO). I expect we should be hearing from the Skype Journal folks soon as well.

In watching Skype's three Daily Motion videos about the release, I had these quick thoughts:

  • The Skype window now covers the full screen. Instead of having a separate window for your contacts, separate windows for each chat (which we Mac users have had collected together in a single chat window with a "drawer" for some time) and a separate window for each call, it's all in one window. While I can see this being a benefit for new users, as someone who has been using Skype for now... what?... 3 or 4 years? I have to say that I like having separate windows! Especially on my Mac where I use Spaces on Leopard and do have different Skype windows in different windows. My initial reaction is that I do definitely hope that the full-screen mode is an option, i.e. there's an advanced setting or something that lets us maintain "classic Skype" look and feel.
  • Multi-modal conversations are better integrated. - In the past, you could have a video conversation and separately have a Skype IM chat going. These were two different windows and so you of course had the issue of having to keep track of those two different windows. While I was personally okay with this as I often work with two monitors and could put the video into full-screen mode on one and keep the chat on the other monitor, Skype has made this simpler by having a "Show Messages" button that makes your video smaller and brings the IM chat window underneath in the same full-screen window. I can see this making sense.
  • It is all about video. The TechCrunch headline is accurate... my sense from watching the videos is that Skype 4.0 is really all about video. The new "Video Call" button does let you initiate a video call in a single click, versus the current way of making the call and then clicking the video button (or configuring Skype to automatically launch video). I agree with TechCrunch, though, that it is puzzling that Skype's video is still only one-to-one when there are so many others out there offering multi-party video chats.

I've included the three videos below that you can watch for yourself. The TechCrunch article also has some additional images and slides. I'd also watch Skype Journal's site as I know they'll have more details soon. Windows users will apparently be able to download the beta sometime tomorrow at (We Mac users will just have to continue to whine... or, do what I'll probably do and fire up a Windows virtual machine to try it out.)

Skype is having a briefing tomorrow which I expect will be all about this, so I'll look forward to hearing what they have to say. I've heard some rumors (including from Andy's article) that the Skype 4.0 beta wipes out previous settings, so I'll be curious also to see if others write about those experiences (and provides another incentive for me to try it out in a VM). I'll also be curious to see how well Skype balances "simplifying" the user experience for new users while maintaining the functionality that "power users" have come to expect. It's a tough balancing act and it will be interesting to see how Skype does.

In any event, the new Skype 4.0 beta is here for Windows users - if you give it a try please do leave a comment and let me know: what do you think?

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