We've been tooling with a new piece of software that blows other P2P apps out of the water–and is useful for business activities in China. It's called Skype, and gives you free (for the time being) Internet calling.
The sound is crisp, the setup is easy, and most importantly it does what others in its category can't do: it gets through firewalls and odd network setups with ease, so it's good for operating within the confines of a large company. The technology and company are from the same people that created the file-sharing service called Kazaa.
The virtue of software like this is that for those of us with friends and colleagues outside of China, having a free (well, you do have to pay for the broadband) method to call overseas is great. There is Microsoft Messenger 6.0, which offers decent quality sound, but Skype's sound is much clearer–and, again, it gets through the firewalls and network setups we tested it on with ease. Messenger breaks down on large networks, and though we did not test Messenger 6.0–which is supposed to fix some of these problems–most users still have older versions.
The other interesting thing about all this P2P VoIP is that it will soon be available on your mobile phones. At the moment, Skype seems to have no plans to launch anything else but a desktop version of its software, but sooner or later it will follow the lead of MS Messenger and ICQ and come out with a mobile version. Is it a paradox that a service that allows you to call people is going to be placed on a phone? In a way, yes, but some say so are the ridiculously high stock prices for Sohu and Netease this week. If something like this moves to the phone, then calling over long distances will be charged the same price as a local call. That's something the telcos should start thinking about.
No, Skype didn't pay us to let you know about them. But since we come down hard so often on services and companies, we felt it right to offer you readers something that we like and use. And since it's free now (don't expect this to last), you might as well use it while you can.
You can visit Skype at www.skype.com.