Earlier this week Skype announced a "New" Skype for
Windows 8; Not Your Skype for Windows "Classic".
Today Skype has launched, coincident with the launch of
Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system, Skype for Windows
8. It's the first major Microsoft offering that basically embeds
Skype into the entire Windows user experience. Access to Skype's
real time conversations is available on an ad hoc basis while also
delivering notifications of incoming messages and calls.
Over the past few days I interviewed Piero Sierra, Skype's Director
of Program Management, who is responsible for the development of
all Skype desktop and mobile products. I have also spent several
hours on a "legacy" PC with a mouse, getting experience, first,
with Windows 8 itself on a non-touch display and then with Skype
for Windows 8.
First a few overview points:
Think of Skype for Window 8 as a Skype client for an independent
operating system, deploying as unique a user interface as Skype for
Mac, Skype for iOS, etc. It takes full advantage of the unique
features of Windows 8 such as displaying apps in full screen,
swiping horizontally across displays of tiles, contacts,
applications and more, and using a unique "snap" feature to display
two applications concurrently with one as the primary display and
the other as a right or left sidebar display. As with Windows 8
itself, if you have a non-touch display, get ready to run your
mouse to the corners and edges of your display.
Windows 8 has two basic modes: Windows 8 Modern (formerly "Metro")
and Windows Desktop. The latter is the more familiar Windows
Desktop with the ability to display multiple windows, etc. In fact
you can install and use Skype for Windows Classic in the Desktop
mode. Switching between the two modes is simple and fast.
Windows 8 launches
with the Windows 8 Start Screen, shown on the right, composed of
tiles representing applications and folders. Click on a tile and
the application launches. If Skype for Windows 8 is open, you will
see a recent chat message, if closed, you will see simply the Skype
logo on the Skype tile. Simply click on that tile and you are
logged into the application. You will also see tiles for Desktop
applications on this Start screen; if Skype for Windows Classic is
installed, you will see a tile with the legacy "S" Skype logo.
While Skype for Windows 8 delivers a unique user experience, if you
want the complete set of the legacy features of Skype, you will
also want to install Skype for Windows Classic on the Desktop. More
on this later.
Sierra outlined three goals for Skype for Windows 8:
Create an "always reachable" experience.
Make Skype "more beautiful" and easier to use
Centre the experience around people
Skype for Windows 8 remains "always reachable" in the background;
in effect it is being designed for "extreme" mobile environments.
It is architected to eliminate battery drain when there is no Skype
activity. As a consequence it also minimizes CPU impact on desktop
and laptop PC's. As soon as a call or chat message comes in, a
notification comes up on the display and you can act on it
However, when there is
no Skype activity, Skype for Windows 8 takes advantage of a new
Windows 8 feature, Windows Notification Services, to put Skype in a
totally dormant mode when there is no activity. As a result it
takes up no CPU cycles when not in use. In the example on the left,
the top Task Manager image is when Skype is dormant but when I sent
a chat message, Skype became active temporarily using some CPU
cycles, as shown in the lower image. You can actually watch the CPU
cycles drop to zero a few seconds after a message is sent.
While this feature speeds up general operation of Windows 8
applications on any device, it definitely has an impact on
extending the battery life of mobile devices. Skype hopes to take
advantage of similar features in iOS and Android to reduce the
background activity, and increase the battery life, of the
respective tablet and smartphone devices. In the image above, the
second Skype process represents Skype for Windows Classic running
in the Windows 8 Desktop, using CPU cycles even when not
One demand on user
cycles in the past has been the need to keep up with presence
status of all your Contacts; for those with several hundred
contacts that can become a battery and CPU resource drain. Whereas
previously Skype had five or six "presence" status settings, in
Skype for Windows 8, there are only two settings: Available and
Invisible. You can still enter a mood message which, at your
discretion, can include more details about your status.
Once launched Skype opens up in a "dashboard" screen showing recent
chat conversation excerpts, "Favorite" Contacts (order
alphabetically) and several of your most recently active Contacts:
There are several points to note, employing Windows 8 Modern
features incorporated into Skype for Windows 8 and built using the
Windows 8 Design Language developed by Microsoft for its products,
graphics and user interfaces:
Single application full-screen display (or "Windows 8 does not
support windows"): when in Windows 8 Modern mode, any application
written for Windows 8 only displays full screen. Each of the
screens of Skype for Windows is a full screen display. Sometimes
all that white background, especially on a large display, may want
you to look for your sunglasses. But recall that, on any tablet,
there is only one application in the display at any given time.
It's provides a focus on the task at hand without distractions, yet
other applications are immediately available in the background with
notification features to alert the user to new activity in real
However, there are some ways to show complementary information
while in an application:
Left-right scrolling: Where a screen. such as Contacts shown below,
have icons that go beyond the screen size, you can scroll left and
right using either a swipe, on a touch screen or touchpad, or the
scroll wheel on a mouse. What is shown below are my "L' to "S"
Contacts who were "Available" (i.e. Online) at the time of the
screen capture. As seen at the upper left, there is an option to
display all of your contacts. Scroll to the left to see the
Contacts before "L" and to the right for those starting with "S" or
What is missing is the ability to "search" for a contact. Also the
Contacts screen does not support "Lists" at this time.
Top of screen: on many of the Skype screens, such as during a
conversation session or when on the Contact screen shown above, you
can run your cursor to the top of the screen and right-click on the
hand icon that appears. ( Update: right click on a
blank location on any Skype for Windows 8 screen and this banner
will show up.) You will then see a banner showing the most recent
Click on any of the conversations and you move to that conversation
on the full screen.
Snap: Windows 8 does contain a feature that allows you to display
one application as a sidebar on the left or right of the display.
It's a fixed width but does lets you work with, say, a browser or
Office document while continuing with a Skype conversation. In the
example below, a Skype chat session is being followed while viewing
a recent Voice On The Web post. During a voice or video call it
displays the Contact's avatar or video, with the ability to bring
up a chat session.
The above are a few examples of how Skype for Windows 8 uses unique
Windows 8 features to launch, manage and follow your conversations.
in the end, it will be the end user who makes the call about being
"more beautiful" and easier to use. It's not a huge learning
curve, once you have mastered Windows 8 itself. I found switching
between Windows 8 applications and the desktop to be snappy with
minimal delays or hesitation.
As for a call itself: the image below comes from a video call with
my website developer. It starts out full screen but you can use the
third icon in the call management bar to bring up the chat
When in a chat
session, as shown on the right, are displayed icons for launching a
voice or video call as well as the "+" icon for adding Contacts to
create a group conversation. Below are the Contact's phone
information as well as his/her local time and mood message. Mousing
and clicking over a phone number will launch a SkypeOut call.
One could go on forever about using Skype for Windows 8; however,
at this point it's probably best that users explore it and make the
call on ease-of-use. The learning curve was fairly fast. Associated
with the "easier-to-use" goal was making its operation more
intuitive. Once you become familiar with Windows 8 gestures and
mouse operations, in practice I found it fairly intuitive for
finding contacts, launching conversations and answering inbound
As for being People centred, the Skype for Windows 8 dashboard,
shown above, has a focus on the most currently relevant contacts
displaying excerpts of recent conversations, "Favorite" Contacts
and the most recently contacted Contacts. It is also linked to the
Windows 8 People application, a universal hub for accessing not
only contact information but also following a contact's other
social networking application activities such as Twitter, FaceBook
Users log into Skype using their Microsoft account ID but since the
user has already launched into Windows via the same ID, simply
launch Windows 8, click on the Skype tile and Skype starts up and
is available for launching conversations. No need to enter a
password a second time.
Soon to come are linkages to Outlook.com, Windows Live Messenger.
While there is no linkage to Facebook, one can interact with
Facebook friends via the People application.
As for the features seen in Skype for Windows Classic: Skype for
Windows 8 supports
instant messaging (Chat, two state presence, emoticons)
group voice calling, with up to 25 participants
one-to-one video calling.
SkypeOut calls to the PSTN
However, support for group video calling remains a work-in-progress
at Skype along with screen sharing. File transfer is also a
work-in-progress but with today's file storage services such as
DropBox and SkyDrive, you can send a "share" link via an Instant
Messaging chat session. Expect to see upgrades on a frequent basis
to bring this all together as a total Skype experience.
Building Skype for Windows 8 required two Product Management teams
(Windows 8 at Microsoft and Skype for Windows 8 at Skype) and two
development teams (Microsoft Windows and Skype) to come together
and figure out how to work as a team to produce the
application. Apparently development started shortly after the
Microsoft acquisition announcement in May, 2011 and includes
modifications to the the back end architecture combining the
Microsoft Messenger back end and Skype's p2p architecture to
provide a more robust and reliable offering.
Most importantly, Skype-to-Skype voice and video calls remain free;
SkypeOut calls require Skype Credit or a Skype Calling
Bottom line: Skype for Windows 8 introduces
"always reachable", "ad hoc" access to real time Skype
conversations into the overall Windows user experience. It's there
when you need to launch conversations or receive calls regardless
of the user's active applications. Yet it places a reduced demand
on a device's CPU and battery resources when not needed.
While users can install and run
Skype for Windows 8 during their overall Windows operation, you
will also need Skype for Windows Classic on the Window 8 Desktop to
have access to all of Skype's features, especially group video
calling and screen sharing. Today's Skype for Windows 8 is a
"version 1.0" and, over time, we'll see these features embedded
into Skype for Windows 8. But there is nothing here that prevents
access to all of Skype's features on a Windows 8 PC.
Skype for Windows 8 comes pre-installed with Windows 8 on the
twelve most popular PC hardware platforms; it is also availablevia the Windows Store.
Next week I will have access to a Surface tablet and report on
Skype for Windows 8 on a touch screen display. Also there will be
future posts covering more details about using Skype for Windows
In the meantime, today's launch represents the first time users can
experience Skype for Windows 8 outside of Skype. If you have
worked with Skype for Windows 8, put your feedback into the
In closing I need to acknowledge and thank my friend, Garry, who
gave me access to his Windows 8 Evaluation PC in order to check out
Skype for Windows 8.