A while back, we detailed three big competitors to Skype. This page is the 2011 follow-up.
Skype. It’s the free Internet calling service loved by college students away from home, businesses keeping in touch with worldwide employees and offices, and families that are separated. Even Congress greenlighted Skype for official business and Microsoft decided to purchase Skype. Odds are, you know someone who uses Skype even if you don’t use it yourself.
Full disclosure: I love Skype. I have an annual subscription that gets me US and Canada calling for $2.99 a month. With it, I get a Skype number (a local phone number that allows me to call anywhere from my phone without incurring long distance or international charges) voicemail, call forwarding and a ton of other awesome features. I think everyone should have Skype. I am a raving mad Skype fanatic and I’m not afraid to admit it. But that’s just my opinion.
I’m sure there are other people out there that hate Skype, like this columnist. In my opinion, the point of Skype is that it allows you to keep in touch with other people, even if they are far away.
And as much as I like Skype and think that you should use it, I'm here to say that you have options! There are alternatives to skype. Here are three.
1. Google Talk: Skype's new biggest competitor
Google Talk is probably Skype’s closest competitor when it comes to free phone services.
Google Talk can do most of the things that Skype can do: PC to PC calling, PC to phone calling, text chatting, file transfer, and video calling.
However, with Google Talk, you do have to download an extra plugin for video chat. Skype's video chatting service is built in.
The other problem with Google Talk is that Google Talk is optimized for Windows. To use Google Talk on a Mac, you have to use iChat, which I hate. It especially frustrates me, because Google could have just built the application better.
If you have a Mac, you're better off using gmail's chat function.
Google Talk is Skype’s #1 rival for free PC to PC and PC to phone calling and for a reason. Google Talk offers completely free calls to any United States destination; Skype doesn't. (Both services charge for calls outside of the US).
I think Google Talk will continue to gain ground on Skype, so long as they offer the free calls to the US. Once they give that up, they'll have to make sure that every user - Mac or PC - can use their program.
2. MSN and Yahoo and AIM, oh my!
Rather than single out a common chat application, I figured I’d just lump them all together. MSN, Yahoo Chat, and AIM work similarly to Google Talk - they're just worse. Anyone else ever had trouble getting their mic to work on Yahoo, let alone video? Yeah. Me too.
Contender #1 with Skype is MSN, aka Windows Live Messenger, aka Windows Messenger, aka Microsoft Messenger. Got that? One chat application, 4 names. Don’t want to confuse anyone here.
MSN is a great chat application with awesome features ... if you’re using Windows. But the webcam doesn't work on a Mac, nor do the customizing features. So, MSN has the same usability problems as Google Talk - it doesn't work on every platform
Contenders #2 and #3 are Yahoo and AIM. They existed when the Internet really became popular in the early 90’s and are still around today. They're pretty similar, so I'm going to lump them together.
Yahoo and AIM, (and MSN, for the most part) offer PC to PC calling and video capabilities. But all three are terribly unreliable and the video quality is poor. (Sometimes Skype fails, too, I should mention, to be fair.)
I don’t suggest using these chat applications for video and voice chat, but if you want to try it out, don’t expect all to go smoothly... I tried to tell you, I really did.
3. VoIP providers, like phone.com
Phone.com is and isn't a competitor with Skype. If you want video chatting, stay with Skype. If you need a stand-alone phone service, give a VoIP service provider like phone.com a try. Phone.com can replace your home phone system; Skype can't (you need a computer to use Skype).
Ditch the phone company and sign up for Phone.com’s home phone plus plan. You save a ton of money on your home phone bill, and you get unlimited calls to any destination in the US or Canada. You can still supplement your new calling plan with video chat by using Skype’s free PC to PC calling service.
Unless you’re ready to reconfigure your iChat to support Gtalk or you enjoy AIM or Yahoo, Mac users who hate Skype are pretty much screwed. Windows users, though, have a viable alternative in Google Talk. If you want to save money on your phone bill, VoIP home phone service from Phone.com or another VoIP provider is a good choice, too.