Skype, founded in 2003, is a fairly new type of telephone and instant message service that is becoming a preferred method of free communication. It provides free VoIP calls from one personal computer to another once you download the software. Rather than a client-server system Skype is peer-to-peer. In wide use now, it had 663 million users as of 2010.
Skype is easy to install and use and takes very little time to learn. Once installed, a user must register for an account; most people have free accounts but there are paid business accounts available with upgraded features. After registering it takes just under a minute for most users to familiarize themselves with the interface and start to instant message or place their first call. First time users can see everything plainly on the screen or in the drop down menus and it's very easy to add new contacts.
Should you wish to make phone calls you'll need a headset and microphone or a dedicated Skype phone. You can call landlines for about 2 cents a minute or you can pay $3 a month for all the calls you care to make in North America. Payment is also required to send SMSs. International calls to other Skype users are free; this feature plus videoconferencing makes Skype popular with small businesses.
Skype recently made an app available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices that include all Skype functions, even video conferencing. Very few calls are dropped and those that do drop are usually because of network congestion. The app works with both Wi-Fi and 3G networks.