Tech Industry

Skype offers Web video phone-calling feature

Two-way blog services and easy sign-up features included among new Net-phone services being rolled out by Skype.

NEW YORK--Skype, the international Web calling phenomenon acquired by eBay, said on Thursday it is adding high-resolution picture phone features to its free telephone replacement service.

Version 2.0 of the Skype software aims to make it easier for customers to sign up and use its phone-over-Internet services, which are free on computers and offer low per-minute charges when calling conventional phones.

In addition, Six Apart, the top maker of Web blog software based in San Francisco, has agreed to embed links to Skype as an option for millions of users of Six Apart's Typepad blog service, the two companies said.

The new Skype software also will allow users of the popular Microsoft Outlook e-mail management software to install a browser-based toolbar that offers instant links to Skype and notifications when other Skype users are online.

"Video calling has come of age," Skype vice president of marketing Saul Klein said of the new feature.

The deal with Six Apart will enable Web users to place instant Web-based phone calls to bloggers via Skype, further enhancing the two-way nature of blog communications.

The option of adding Skype will be available early next year on Typepad, and eventually on Live Journal, a second blogging service from Six Apart with which almost 9 million blogs have been created, the companies said in a statement.

"This allows you to see a button on a blog and start talking to the person who publishes that blog," Mena Trott, co-founder and president of Six Apart, said in a phone interview. "That is the next step in blogging."

Logitech and Creative, which collectively sell around two-thirds of the world's Webcams--the miniature cameras used for video conferencing via computer--have agreed to distribution partnerships with Skype. For high quality video calls, users need to use a broadband connection.

Skype's long-rumored upgrade to video phone calling capabilities competes with computer instant messaging services that also offer video phone calling features, including Microsoft MSN and America Online's AIM service.

The upgraded Skype software also features "mood indicator" software that offers phone personalization features, allowing users to signal whether they are happy, sad, listening to music, available or busy.

These features also include ring tones to alert Skype users to callers and customizable personal images, known as avatars, for which users will pay around $1 apiece. Among the companies supplying avatars are American Greetings and U.K.-based Weemees.

Skype and Logitech plan to jointly market Skype Video and Logitech Webcams and telephone headsets worldwide, engaging in regional promotions and direct outreach to Logitech customers and Skype users, Logitech said in a separate statement.