How to use Skype

by Aaron Parson

Skype, Microsoft's Internet phone service, provides free instant messaging, phone calling and video calling between members. For a fee, users can also call regular phone lines, making Skype a potential choice to replace a home phone. In 2010, Reuters reported that Skype had overtaken traditional phone systems as the largest provider of international calls, and as of 2013, the number of Skype calls were equal to one third of worldwide phone traffic. Whether for staying in touch with family, calling friends or even recording a podcast over the Internet, Skype requires an account and in some cases, a bit of hardware.

Hardware Requirements

Almost any computer can run Skype. The program's system requirements only ask for a 1-GHz processor and 512MB of RAM, which even the cheapest PCs sold today meet without trouble. If you only want to use Skype to send instant messages, you don't need anything else. To make calls, however, you need a microphone, and video calls require a webcam. Most laptops have these components built in, but desktop computers require external peripherals. Any microphone, headset or camera that's compatible with your computer should work with Skype as well. Skype recommends installing the latest drivers for your webcam. When shopping for a headset, make sure you pick a computer headset, not one designed for a phone.

Make an Account

Account Cost

Talking to Skype members is always free. You don't need to pay to register for Skype, to download the client or to call other Skype accounts. Calling landlines and cell phones, however, costs money. You have two options for payment: buy Skype credit to pay for calls by the minute, or subscribe with a monthly fee for unlimited calling. Rates vary by country, so check Skype's rates page for details or to add credit to your account. As of publication, calls to numbers in the U.S. cost 2.3 cents per minute or $2.99 per month for a subscription.

Get Started Using Skype

Check Your Hardware

Skype usually detects your microphone and webcam automatically — if you have them attached — but before you make any calls, check your hardware setup. Open the Tools menu and click Options. Check both the Audio Settings and Video Settings tabs to make sure your microphone and camera are selected. If not, pick them from their respective drop-down menus. The Options window also offers other hardware settings, such as mic volume and speaker volume.

Find Contacts

Search for people using the search bar on Skype's main screen. The search bar works with real names, Skype user names and Microsoft account email addresses. Choose a name in the search results to see more profile details, if any are available, and click Add to Contacts to send a friend request.

Narrow down the results by checking the location beneath each name.

Send Instant Messages

To send an IM, pick a contact from your contact list on the main screen and write your message in the Type a Message Here space at the bottom of the window. Press Enter to send the message.

Instant messaging on Skype

Place a Skype Call

To call the selected contact, click either the video camera icon for a video call or the phone icon for an audio call. Skype includes an automated service, listed in your contacts as Echo / Sound Test Service, to help you test your microphone. Before calling a real person, call the test service and leave a message to hear your own voice played back.

The Sound Test service only supports audio calls.

Place a Phone Call

Click Call Phones — or press Ctrl-D — to call a landline or cell phone. Enter the phone number at the top of the screen, pick the country you're calling and click the phone icon. The Call Phones page also lists your current Skype credit and subscriptions for paying for your call.

The text bubble icon next to the phone icon sends a text message to a cell phone.

Items you will need

About the Author

Aaron Parson has been writing about electronics, software and games since 2006, contributing to several technology websites and working with NewsHour Productions. Parson holds a Bachelor of Arts from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.