Skype's new video phone service will very likely be available for Mac and Linux, the company has hinted. We spoke to James Bilefield, the company's vice president of business development, and pumped him for news about the future direction of the company and its products.
"Today video calling is only for Windows, but our strategy in the past has been to roll out on other platforms reasonably soon," said Bilefield. "It depends on feedback and testing - and we have dedicated teams on those platforms."
The company has no plans to support video calling on Windows 2000, he said, as older machines could not support the level of quality that people would demand. "We're to deliver a high quailty experience, and most of our customers are using XP."
The arrival of Skype 2.0 on windows XP was good timing for Christmas, he said: "Christmas is a time when people want to come together as families - and a webcam makes a great Christmas present." Certifying Logitech and Creative webcams for Skype video, and making them available (soon) at the Skype store, shows that Skype is "not just pushing out a software product, but thinking how people use it," he said.
How will eBay change Skype?
Bilefield would not make any comment about the integration of Skype with its new parent eBay, which bought Skype in September. However, the delivery of a major new version of Skype shows that eBay intends to keep Skype going as a standalone business, rather than seeing it as a tool to integrate into its sales software.
"Skype's business is increasing month on month, and eBay has raised our profile," said Bilefield. "You can expect news from us next year on the integration of Skype with eBay and PayPal."
The Skype beta had extensive internal testing before it was released to the public today, he said. There are a few minor "known issues", but barring any major problems, the program should become "gold code" [be finalised] within a few weeks.
Bringing video calling to the masses
The world is ready for an explosion of mass video telephony, said Bilefield. "It's a tipping point for video calling," he said, pointing to the big penetration of Skype and the ready availability of high quality webcams. "There are 200 million broadband lines around the world, and 68 million Skype users - a third of broadband users have Skype, and we've had a lot of demand for a high quality video service."
"We are going to do for video what we did for voice a few years ago," said Bilefield, "There were other VoIP players here before Skype came along, but Skype revolutionised expectations."
The main factors that distinguishes Skype 2.0's video are its quality, and ease of set-up he said: "With other solutions it's quite complicated." Using peer-to-peer technology is right for video, just as it is for voice, he added.
Video will differ from voice in at least one way, which could make it harder for Skype to produce a revenue-generating service. Skype's voice service was relatively easy to extend, to create a revenue stream with the SkypeOut service that lets users dial to the normal telephony network.
No equivalent network exists for video. Although there are commercial video conferencing services, it isn't immediately obvious how Skype could link into them in a mutually-beneficial way.
"We're focussed on free video, right now," said Bilefield, "that's the service we're bringing out now, but we are quite a fast moving company."
What else is coming up?
Other features that might be added in future include the ability to conference in multiple parties - a feature that Bilefield acknowledged was already available in some of the third party add-ons for Skype. vSkype, now known as Festoon, is possibly the best developed of these.
"We listen carefully to partner feedback," said Bilefield, adding that - though Skype now has its own video software - the opportunity to extend it remains. l"There are people in our eco-system that have already added in video," he said. "It's a combination of what skype does in itself and what we enable our developer network to do."
Although some of Skype 2.0's improvements are similar to functions already available in instant messaging services, Bilefield said there were big advances: "Other IMs don't show your timezones," he said, "and the way we do personalisation and broadcast moods is different."