Two weeks ago we had a quick look at Skype, the easiest way to make free audio and video calls via your computer.  If you missed our getting started guide, you can find a useful recap at http://costaconnected.com/skype-video – and soon you will be Skyping away like an old hand.

But the free Skype-to-Skype calls are only the beginning of what Skype has to offer, and there are lots of other useful tricks and tips that benefit us here inSpainwanting to keep in touch with family and friends overseas.  Today we’ll take a look at some power-user tools and enhancements, that will turn you into a Skype-ninja, and start to exploit the true potential of this nifty service.

For example, what if you want to call someone who isn’t on Skype, or isn’t sat in front of their computer and logged in to it at the same time as you?  Using the Skype Out service, you can ringUKlandlines for less than 1c per minute, if you buy a subscription service – it’s still good value even if you ‘pay as you go’.  If you make a lot of calls, you can buy an unlimited cross-Europe landline call package for €5.99 – yes, that is truly unlimited, you could theoretically talk for 43200 minutes in a 30 day month!  You can also text theUKfor around 8c a go, but do compare that to your mobile provider as they could offer a cheaper package if you text a lot.

What about people who need to call you?  You can get an online number from Skype, that looks and costs like a normalUKlandline.  This means that your friends and family in theUKcan ring you on it, you receive the call through Skype, but they can make it through any mobile or landline and be charged accordingly.  You can even choose the area code, for example if a lot of your friends are inLondonselect an 020 Skype number and your callers will pay only a local call rate.  This costs  €17.25 incl IVA for a quarter, and you can set it renew so you keep and can share the same number for as long as you like.

The online number offers you a number of other cool features, including voicemail (that you can personalise with your outgoing message), so people can leave you messages when you are offline.  You can choose to display our online number as caller identification so people know you are you, and you can even have calls divert to your Spanish mobile or landline call – so you never miss your loved-ones getting in touch.  Forwarding will use up your Skype credit, and you can of course get a free Skype app for many mobile platforms including Iphones and Android – but as these tend to be really heavy battery-suckers to run constantly, the forwarding might be a better option for you.

There’s lots of other fun stuff you can do with Skype, such as rigging up a home security system on the cheap.  You’ll need two separate Skype accounts, a computer running at home with a webcam, and access to the internet from wherever you are – just set the home system to auto-answer calls, and you can check in via your ipad or whatever.  This should of course never be substitute for decent home security, nor would it be ethical to spy on anyone without their knowledge… but if you want to check-up unannounced on teenage kids theoretically old enough to leave on their own, or just see whether your pets are wrecking the living room, this is easy to set up.

There are other add-ons for Skype that enhance the basic services – they used to be called Skype Extras, now thanks to the mac-ification of the world they are called Skype Apps. you can find quick links to the best of them here – http://costaconnected/skype-apps – some are free others are cheap, and it depends what you want to do.  For example, with Pamela you can record calls, which can be useful if you are delivering training or consultancy via Skype – again, consider the ethics in any situation, as nobody should be recorded without their knowledge and consent.

A recent collaboration has made it easy to link your Facebook and Skype account together – so that you can quickly and easily start a Skype audio or video call with any of your Facebook buddies, as well as seeing your Facebook newsfeed and being able to update your status within Skype.  A lot of recent developments at Skype seem to be of this nature, bringing the service more closely integrated and accessible within other things you might be using.  For example, there are add-ons for all main internet browsers, which will convert all displayed phone numbers into clickable links to immediately dial the number from Skype.

Don’t forget, you can use Skype for your business too.  It’s not just a great way of making cheap overseas calls, you can do so much more – for example, the recently-added group video chat makes videoconferencing for teams a real option.  There are a great many add-ons that you can tweak to perfectly suit your business needs within Skype – check out http://costaconnected/skype-business for links and ideas.  You can transfer files quickly and securely to anyone else in your contact list, and there is even a remote control/screen sharing option available.

You can enhance your customer support by adding a ‘Skype Me!’ button to your website, to make it easy for your clients and prospects to get in touch fast, and of course having an online Skype number means your important calls can track you down wherever you are, invaluable if your work means you are not at a desk all day.

All in all it is definitely worth digging deeper into Skype, once you are comfortable with the basic free skype-to-skype service.  With the company’s recent acquisition by Microsoft for a massive sum, we can hope that new developments and innovations will continue to be forthcoming – and that can only benefit those of us enjoying their services from here in the sun.

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