Skype is free, downloadable software that allows you to make and receive telephone calls to and from other Skype users over the Internet. In technical terms, it is what is known as a software-only Voice over Internet Protocol system. To use Skype you need the software, itself, a computer with a high-speed, broadband Internet connection and a microphone and headset.
To download Skype to your computer, visit the Skype website, skype.com, and click on the "Download Skype". Versions are available for Windows, Macintosh and Linux computers. Once you've downloaded the software, double-click the icon for Skype set-up program -- on Windows, a small blue-and-cube -- and follow the on-screen instructions.
As part of the installation process, you need to create a unique name, known as a Skype Name, for yourself and a password to protect your account. What you decide to call yourself is entirely up to you, but your Skype Name should reflect whether you intend to use Skype for personal or business purposes on both. Once you've completed the Sky Name information, click "Sign In" to launch Skype.
Before you make your first Skype call, you need to test your connection and, of course, find someone to call. You can test your connection by entering echo 123 into the text box labelled "Type Skype Name or number with country code" in the main Skype window. Clicking on the green call button connects you to the Skype Call Testing Service. You can search for fellow Skype users by choosing "Contacts," "Search for Skype Users" from the main Skype program window and entering a person's name. If you don't have a name, you can also search by location, gender and age range.
The main limitation of Skype is that it is entirely software-based, so you can only use it from a computer or a special type of phone, known as a Wi-Fi phone, which can tap into wireless networks. You cannot just pick up any telephone, dial a number and make a call via Skype. Bear in mind, too, that the basic, free version of Skype only allows you to make telephone calls to other Skype users; you cannot call just any number. That said, there is a subscription-based version of Skype, called Sky Premium, which allows you to call regular telephone numbers via Skype, as well as make group video calls with up to 10 people.