Windows-using Skype fans can now download beta 3 of the venerable VoIP application. Skype 3.0 sports a handful of new features, including Skypecasts, Public Chats, Click-to-call, and a redesigned user interface.
Public Chats allow Skype 3.0 users to create and join large text chatrooms that appear to operate much like IRC chatrooms. Moderators can direct conversation topics, kick users, and determine who can participate in chats and to what extent. Public Chat links can be included on web pages, allowing surfers to jump into conversations via Skype.
Skypecast began testing in May with a handful of Skype partners. Still in beta, Skypecasts are conference calls handled over Skype’s network that can handle up to 100 users. Like Public Chats, Skypecasts allow moderators to control the flow of the conference calls with mute and "eject" buttons. Like Public Chats, Skypecast links can appear on web pages to enable ‘Netizens to join calls.
Click-to-call is an extension of a feature first found on eBay. It works with both Internet Explorer and Firefox, using a phone number recognition feature to enable one-click Skype calls directly from a web page.
Other improvements include a redesigned UI, tweaks to some of the language files, support for the Lithuanian language, and improved video device detection. As of now, Skype 3.0 beta is for Windows only, and that will likely remain the case for the next several months. The official Mac OS X client just hit 2.0 last month, and Skype for Linux is currently at version 1.3.
We thought eBay’s decision to buy Skype last year was a bit of a head-scratcher, and it’s still unclear how the online auctioneer is going to recoup the $2.6 billion it paid for the company. Although Skype is still fighting a RICO lawsuit filed by Streamcast, the company’s prospects look good, especially for its users. Skype’s decision to make calls within the US and Canada free through the end of the year has, at the very least, increased interest in the application.