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Monday, 31 August 2009 15:36

New Skype Beta Client For Linux

The Linux community has been waiting for a long time for an updated Skype client. Recently Skype released a Beta client, version, with many new features and bugfixes, bringing Skype functionality on Linux much closer to that available for Mac and Windows.

Much has changed in Linux over the past few years, including advances such as the new PulseAudio system (a somewhat mixed blessing) and greatly increased webcam support. Previously, the most recent Skype for Linux client, version, was not able to take advantage of these improvements.

Many commentators, including this author, wondered how long it would be until Skype released an updated client. It seems that our long wait is finally over (well...almost over) as a Beta version of the 2.1 client was recently released. Let's hope it isn't too long until a final release.

The Beta client offers many new features, bugfixes and other enhancements, some of which are oultined below:

New features:
- High Quality Video support
- Skype's SILK audio codec
- PulseAudio support
- SMS sending support
- Chat messages editing/removing support
- Contact groups support
- Typing notification in chat
- Chat picture support (add/change/remove) for group conversations
- Mood messages are visible in contact list and tooltip
- Video/Mobile icons are visible in contact list
- Bookmarked Chats are visible in contact list
- Contact labels/tags

Nice touches are a larger icon in the taskbar which also shows the number of missed events (phone calls, chats, etc), contacts with phone numbers now have flags to indicate their country, indications on when contacts are typing in a chat window, the ability to edit and remove messages in chats and various other small user interface improvements.

For me, one of the biggest improvements is that the Skype for Linux client now has the ability to send SMS. Additionally, Skype can be configured so that the SMS comes from an authenticated number, in my case, I am using my mobile number. So now I can send an SMS from my laptop keyboard, which appears to be from my mobile phone.

Being a Beta client, there are a number of things that don't work well, and I suggest that you familiarise yourself with that list before installation and usage. These are listed on the Skype for Linux Developers site, under "Known Issues".

I tested out the new client on Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty using a three year old laptop with an inbuilt sound card and front microphone. The Skype Beta client picked up these devices and when I used the "call testing service" it all worked well. However, after I exited and restarted Skype it didn't work at all, nor did it work with a headset. I suspect that you have to have these plugged in on boot up for it to detect and use them. Maybe this will be resolved in the final release.

For a while there we thought Skype had abandoned Linux users entirely, so it is good to see that finally Skype are gearing up for a greatly improved Linux client release.

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