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Skype: Happy digital Christmas everyone!

As Christmas approaches it's time to check in with that daughter Down Under and that uncle in Uzbekistan -- thank goodness that Skype means it won't cost you that much

Crave loves Skype and you should too. What better way to contact your loved ones over Christmas, while saving some money and playing World of Warcraft on the sly?

For those of you who still haven't got with the programme (try to keep up at the back), Skype is an application available for both PC and Mac (and other platforms) that allows you to make text, voice and video calls over your broadband Internet connection. The beauty of Skype is that calls to a friend who also has Skype on their computer are totally free.

As well as calling other computers, you can also call normal phones, but at pretty low rates. And Skype's latest Talk for Britain deal hould also help make normal phone calls cheaper as well. Simply load £10 of (SkypeOut) credit onto your account before 31 December, wait for them to activate the promotion, and you'll score free calls to any UK landline for the next six months.

We're totally hooked: there's no better feeling than getting one over on BT and not having to pay a phone bill until the middle of next year. Calling abroad isn't free, but the rates are very good.

Skype software also now lets you send SMS texts to mobile phones. Type the message on your keyboard then zap it to your mate's mobile. A new feature called Skype Zones means that for around £4 per month you can use approved Wi-Fi hot spots while out and about. There are over 8,500 in the UK, so this should be great for turning that Netgear Skype Phone we looked at earlier in the year into a really useful device.

Why stop there? As hardcore gamers know, Skype lets you make conference calls, so you can talk with up to nine people at the same time. Think about it: a really digital family Christmas -- in separate rooms, wearing headsets, staring at a monitor. Now isn't that a lovely image? Cheers, Skype! -DC