Hack 98. Make Internet Phone Calls with Skype
Use the cross-platform Skype tool to call friends and family over your Internet connection.
VoIP (Voice over IP), or placing phone calls over the Internet, has gotten a lot of hype recently. After all, why pay long distance or even local telephone fees if you can make the same phone call using the Internet connection you already have? There are a number of different methods for placing computer-to-computer calls over the Internet, but lately the Skype software, which blends voice chat with regular instant messaging, has become increasingly popular. Skype offers Windows and Mac clients, but it also offers a Linux client, so with a little configuration, you can talk to your friends and family regardless of which OS they use. This hack covers how to install and configure Skype for voice chat.
The first step is to download and install Skype for Linux. Skype is a commercial product and although the software can be downloaded for free, it is not Open Source software. To get Skype, visit the official Skype Linux download page at http://www.skype.com/products/skype/linux. This page provides precompiled packages for a variety of distributions including SUSE, Fedora, Mandrake, and Debian. If your distribution isn't represented, you can download the precompiled software in tarball form and extract it wherever you want to store it. Otherwise use your distribution's package manager to install the precompiled package.
After Skype is installed, type skype in a console window, or type the full path to the skype executable if you installed it somewhere other than in your path. The first time that Skype launches, it will prompt you to create a new Skype account. If you have a previously created account you may enter it here, otherwise think of a username and password for yourself. After the account has been created, you can also enter in other personal information, although this step is optional. This personal information can be used so that your friends (or I suppose your enemies too) can search for you without knowing your exact username.
The next step is to add contacts to your contact list. Click Tools Add a Contact and type the contacts username, or click the search icon to search for someone if you aren't sure of his exact username. As the contact list gets populated, you will notice that each contact has a status icon so you can see whether they are online, and if so, whether they are available to talk.
To place a call, right-click on the contact you wish to call and select Call this Contact or click the phone receiver icon that will be highlighted on the bottom of the window. Make sure that the volume levels for the speaker and microphone are set to a reasonably high setting in your mixer program. You can call more than one person at a time and place them all on the same line, and you can click Call Hold to put someone on hold. When you are finished with a call, click Call Hangup. When someone calls you, Skype will make a ringing sound (which can be rather startling, particularly if you have headphones on) and prompt you so you can choose to accept or reject the call.
The default configuration for Skype works well for the average user. Click File Options if you want to configure the settings. The configuration window is split into the following tabs:
Skype also offers two pay services that link Skype with standard phone lines. SkypeOut allows you to call standard telephones from your Skype program. After you sign up for the plan, the Start tab will display your current account balance. Click the Dial tab in the main window, and then dial the number you wish to call on the number pad in that window. You can hang up or hold the call like with computer-to-computer Skype calls. In addition, Skype offers a plan called SkypeIn that lets you set up a phone number people can call from a regular phone that will ring your Skype program.