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Skype takes VoIP software to the Mac

The Net phone-calling provider is testing a version of its software and service for Apple fans.

Skype Technologies launched a version of its Internet telephony package for Mac owners on Tuesday, as it battles a growing number of competitors offering VoIP products.

Skype for Apple Computer's Mac OS X is only at the beta, or testing, stage at present and can be downloaded at Skype's Web site. The software includes the SkypeOut service, which lets users call traditional telephones and cell phones worldwide, with prices starting at 1.7 euro cents (about 2 U.S. cents) per minute.

"This is very significant," a Skype representative said on Tuesday. "It means Skype users can speak for free to other Skype users seamlessly across a wide range of platforms." Versions of the Skype software already exist for the Windows, Linux and Pocket PC operating systems.

Luxembourg-based Skype says it has more than 9 million users worldwide, which puts it at the forefront of the fast-growing Internet telephony market. But it is facing plenty of competition, both from fellow start-ups and established telecommunications providers.

America Online on Monday confirmed that it is testing its own Internet phone service, which is likely to be launched next year. The company intends to offer a homemade VoIP service, using partner Level 3 Communications as a conduit to the local telephone system, according to a source in the VoIP industry.

AT&T recently said it would stop adding new copper wire phone customers and instead will pour resources into its own VoIP product, called CallVantage. Ma Bell is trying to sell the service as an added application for broadband customers.

Cable companies are also toying with their own services. AOL corporate cousin Time Warner Cable, for example, has begun selling a VoIP service and plans to launch it nationwide by the end of the year.

A full version of Skype for Mac OS X is expected before the end of this year, and Skype is prepared to add features or make changes as a result of the beta trials.

"We direct our development by listening to the comments and requests from Skype users. We look forward to hearing from the Mac users, who are known to 'think different' about how we can continue to improve Skype," Niklas Zennstrom, chief executive and co-founder of Skype, said in a statement.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London. CNET News.com's Jim Hu and Ben Charny contributed to this report.