With in excess of 1 billion downloads, Skype has proven to be immensely popular since it was first launched in 2003.
Despite an army of calling and messaging apps having since emerged, it remains a great option for communicating with people free of charge. Its options for calling landline and mobile numbers abroad remain unrivalled.
While you can easily use it via the apps for iOS and Android, downloading the PC version might be more useful at the moment, particularly if you're looking to keep productivity levels high while working from home. However, it can be a bit confusing, particularly if you don't already have a Microsoft account.
Check your computer can run Skype
Microsoft removed much of the Skype functionality from its website, so you'll really need to download the desktop version to make the most of it.
If you have a PC or laptop, just make sure it meets the minimum requirements
- Windows PC or Mac. Get more info
- Internet connection
- Speakers and microphone – built-in or separate.
- For voice calls you need an internet connection with 100 kbps down / 100 kbps up.
- For group video calling everyone on the call needs a recent version of Skype on any device plus a front-facing camera of some sort. For best quality use a high-speed broadband connection of 4Mbps down / 512kbps up and a computer with a Core 2 Duo 1.8 GHz processor. As a minimum you’ll need a high-speed broad connection of 512kbps down / 128kbps up and a computer with a 1 GHz processor.
Most modern Windows computers are more than adequate for using Skype, but refer to the specifications of your machine if needs be. Here’s our guide on how to view your computer's specifications.
We're also assuming you have broadband at home. If you still rely on mobile data or are looking to upgrade your connection, check out our guide to the best broadband deals.
You can download Skype for Windows from the official website by clicking here. Simply follow the instructions on the page to download Skype onto your computer.
Skype is also available to use on a Mac. The official site should recognise which device you're using and offer the relevant download link.
As is the case with Windows 10, you are encouraged to sign in with a Microsoft account when you boot the program up for the first time.
If you've ever used OneDrive, Office 365 or even Xbox, it's highly likely that you already have one. If you're still reluctant to use a Microsoft account, there are still other options.
Once you click 'Sign in or create', you'll be prompted to enter the email address linked to your account. However, below that you should see 'Sign in options'. While you probably won't already have a security key, GitHub and Google offer ways to sign in without creating yet another account.
Setting up the rest of Skype
Once you've got that out of the way, you can get on with the easier parts of the setup process.
Skype will check that you have appropriate sound and video options – as you’ll need speakers/headphones to hear others on calls, and a microphone either built in to your computer or an external one connected in order for people to hear you.
Skype will automatically check that you are set up – if you’re not, it will prompt you on what you need. You can also add a profile picture at this stage.
After this, you’ll be taken to the main menu.
Are Skype calls free?
Yes. So long as you are calling someone else who also has the Skype application. It only costs money when you ring a landline number.
The main function of Skype is making voice or video calls to people. First you’ll need to add contacts to Skype. On the left of the Skype window, click next to the magnifying glass icon and type in the name of the person you’re looking for. You can also search by their email address or Skype name – best to ask the person for it first, as it makes it easier to find.
Once you’ve added the person you want to call, they’ll be stored in your Contacts folder. This is accessible at all times in the left hand column of the Skype window.
Click on the person you want to call. Skype will indicate whether or not that person is Online with a green circle icon. Remember though, the person won't actually appear in your contacts list until they have accepted your invitation to connect. You can then click one of two blue icons in the top right corner of the screen:
The video camera icon sets up a video call, while the phone icon sets up a voice only call. Provided you and the recipient both have a webcam and microphone set up, you’ll be presented with their face and yours once the call connects. Provided you have set up correctly, your Skype call is now in session!
You can also make group calls. You must have all the people you want to join the group chat as contacts on Skype first. Then, click on ‘New Call' under the 'Calls' section.
You can select which of your contact will be in that particular chat group. You can have as many people as you like for an instant messaging chat, but the limit for video calling is set at 10. Even on a decent broadband connection, a comfortable number of people in a video chat is around five – don’t be surprised if any more than that causes issues, as making video calls uses up a lot of bandwidth on your line.
Notice also here that Skype automatically creates a link that you can copy and paste to send to people you'd like to join your conversation. This is useful if those people do not have Skype, as it will invite them to install it and then join the correct group chat.
You can also record Skype calls and keep the videos for watching later.
How to make calls to phones
Skype also allows you to make calls from your Skype account to phone numbers in many countries around the world. This isn’t part of its free service, so you must add credit to your account using a debit or credit card.
For the full list of countries you can call and from where, and a list of charges, here’s Skype’s own guide. It’ll help give you some idea of how much credit you should add you’re your account for making phone calls.
To make a call, you click on the Call icon on the left bar of the Skype window. Click 'New Call' and you'll be prompted to call one of your contacts. However, you're going to want to click 'Dial pad' next to the search bar. You’re then presented the dialler on screen, which also shows how much Skype credit is on your account, and an option to see all calling rates. From here, you can dial the number and place the call – this is only for audio as you’re calling a phone, so you can’t make a video call with this option.
If you use this service regularly, Skype has also introduced monthly subscriptions for international calls. These are particularly useful if you regularly call someone living in a different country.
How to use Skype: Instant messaging
Another great feature of Skype is being able to send your contacts instant messages, much like you would send a text message. These instant messages are free, and are sent over an Internet connection – think of it sending like an email, but being presented like a text message service on a phone.
To send an instant message, and therefore start a chat conversation with one of your contacts, you have to click on their name in the contact list.
The messages you type then appear in the window above, and remain there as a chain of messages you can read back and keep track of. If you download Skype to your smartphone, this feature is also included, and is a great way to message your Skype contacts on the go.