Turn Your Computer into a Phone with Skype
After installing Skype, your first goal should be setting up your contacts list. The green plus sign icon in the lower-left corner lets you look for other Skype users (Figure 3). In the text box at the top, enter either the Skype name, part of the full name, or the e-mail address to search for someone. You can restrict the search further (probably necessary if the person you are seeking has a common name) to a specific country, state, city, language and sex. Click Search, and Skype runs through all users, looking for those who match and shows a window with the list. If the person you are seeking is on the list, click on the name to select it, and then click Add Contact. The contact will appear on your personal list.
If you have purchased some credit, you also can call landlines. (In order to buy credit, visit Skype's Web site, and you'll find the link in the top-right corner.) You can pay with PayPal, Visa, MasterCard and a few other options. (Remember to use some of the credit; if you don't spend any of it in 180 days, your credit expires and you will lose whatever you had still remaining in your account.)
If you want to add a standard phone, in the Add a Skype contact box, click the bottom link, Add an ordinary phone, and you will be able to enter the name and phone number. These numbers will show up in your contact list with a blue (instead of green) icon, so you can recognize them at a glance (Figure 4).
If you click on a user, you can see his or her picture (if you want to upload yours, click on your own name, and then click Edit Profile), and you will see three icons: a sky-blue Start Chat icon, a green Start Phone Call icon, and a down-pointing arrow that adds several more options, such as Send File, View Profile, Rename Contact (if you want to change the way the user appears on your list), and for unwanted users, Delete Account and Block Account. Another option is to click on Call Ordinary Phones, which shows a touchtone-type display, allowing you to key in any number from any country; remember this has a cost, and you must have enough credit for this.
During a phone call, you can right-click on the call window at any time and get similar options as described in the above paragraph. You even can start a chat, simultaneously with the call (you might want to do this should your connection prove a bit flaky). Another option is adding video, so you can send your image to the other party. You can do this automatically (depending on how you configured the video options, as described previously) or on demand (simply click the button). Click the red button at the lower right to hang up and finish the call.
The chat window is quite similar to all other IRC channels. You can add more people to the chat if you like; simply click the Add People button. To end a chat, click on Leave Chat or close the window.
Skype lets you turn your computer into a phone, capable of calling both Skype users and common phone numbers all over the world. Let's hope that the Skype developers speed up a bit, and let Linux users have more of the functionality available in other operating systems.
Getting Your Webcam to Work
The biggest enhancement in Skype 2.0 is the video capabilities, so I certainly needed a Webcam in order to write this article. I went to a nearby computer shop, and knowing there could be driver problems (most Webcams, if not all, come only with Windows drivers, and not even a peep regarding Linux), I applied my common sense, studied the options thoroughly and opted for the cheapest model—if it wouldn't work, at least it wouldn't cost much!
Even with the lack of support, there's a good source of drivers at the Libland Web site. Its owner, Michel Xhaard, is doing a great job in providing a free driver that works with more than 200 different Webcam models. Thus, as the model I bought wasn't exactly cutting-edge, I thought there would be a good chance it would work out of the box with this driver.
I installed the Webcam, and did lsusb, which produced a line reading Bus 001 Device 002: ID 0ac8:307b Z-Star Microelectronics Corp.. The first four characters (actually, hexadecimal numbers) after ID identify the manufacturer, and the last four characters specify the model. I then checked the list of supported Webcams, looking for these values, and didn't find them; however, I did find several other models from the same manufacturer, so I decided to give the driver a whirl. Because I'm running kernel 2.6.23, I needed the gspcav1 driver; for kernels below 2.6.11, scpa5xx is needed. I downloaded the package, and then as root, did the following:
tar zxf gspcav1-20071224.tar.gz cd gspcav1-20071224 ./gspca_build
The process ran seamlessly, so I tried the Webcam with Skype, and it worked. You might not be so lucky, but I recommend starting your search for a driver at Xhaard's site.
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- November 2015 Issue of Linux Journal: System Administration