Turn Your Computer into a Phone with Skype

Getting started with Skype.
Configuring Skype

The first time you run Skype, check its configuration. Click the S on the bottom left, and you'll see the Options window. Here are some of the possibilities:

  • General allows you to specify what happens when you double-click on a contact (either start a call or a chat), the timeouts (after how much time you will be shown as Away or Not Available) and the program language. Although Skype's Web site advertises almost 30 languages, it came with only 13. Spanish was noticeably missing.

  • Privacy lets you decide whether you will accept calls or chat invitations from anybody or only from people you specifically allow, whether you will answer incoming calls automatically (I wouldn't check that), and how long you want to keep the chat history.

  • Notifications allows you to assign sound bits to different events, such as an incoming call or an answered call, and whether you will be shown a pop-up notification. If you click Advanced View, you can specify scripts that should be executed on specific events, or a message that should be sent to the other party.

  • Chat permits you to define what will happen if somebody starts a chat with you, such as whether to use emoticons and whether other parties should be informed when you are typing.

  • Call Forwarding is a paid feature. When someone calls you, and you are not at your computer, you can have Skype call your mobile or landline phone, paying per minute at the regular call rates. (If you call people who forward their calls, you pay nothing.) You even can forward calls to more than one phone, answer whichever you want, and you will be billed accordingly.

  • Voice mail is another paid feature, available only with a Skype Pro subscription. Basically, it works as an answering machine, and you can listen to the calls you received whenever you are signed in.

  • Sound Devices lets you choose which devices should be used for sound. I'd suggest keeping the default devices, unless you know what you're doing. Click on Make a test sound to verify whether Skype can produce sound, and then click Make a test call to check whether your microphone is working. Then, follow the spoken instructions to see if everything's working.

  • Web Devices can be used to specify whether Skype Video will be used, whether video should start automatically, and whether you want to receive other people's video and let them know you have video capabilities. After you have set up your Webcam, use the Test button to verify that you can see yourself.

  • Advanced lets you select whether you want to check for updates when starting Skype (I'd suggest doing so), which port to use (leave it as suggested), and if you are using a proxy, its details.

  • Blocked People lets you manage your blacklist. If you don't want to receive calls from particular users, you can block them from Skype's main window. Right-click on users' names, and you will have the option to block them. If you want to restore (unblock) someone, you can do so here.

Play around with all options, but be sure to check, at the very least, the Sound Devices screen and do a test call. Otherwise, you might find that people call you, but you can't hear them, or that you speak, but nobody hears you.