After a beta test which lasted since May, Skype today has officially released the next version of its Windows client, Skype 5.0, which brings with it group video conferencing and Facebook integration.
Group video calling is a feature the company slowly ramped up throughout Skype 5′s beta. It first offered the ability for five-person video chats in May. At the time I argued that group video chat would become the next killer webcam feature. In September, the company extended group video chat to support 10-person conversations. Eventually, Skype will charge for group video chats, but for now users can try out the service for free.
We reported at the end of September that Facebook and Skype were partnering up, and the official release of Skype 5 is the first time we get to see Facebook’s integration into the software. You can now log in with Facebook Connect in Skype to instant message, call, and text your Facebook friends. You can also view your Facebook News Feed from within Skype, post status messages, and synchronize your status messages with Skype’s “mood message.”
As I’ve argued previously, the partnership is a win for both companies: Facebook gets access to a robust voice and video calling platform, and Skype will see a massive surge in new users from Facebook’s 500 million users. Skype has 124 million people using its software once a month and 550 million registered users of its own. There will certainly be a great deal of overlap between existing Skype and Facebook users, but the integration will also lead many users to try out Skype who never saw a reason to in the past.
As expected, Skype 5 also introduces a more refined interface and better overall call quality. The new interface should make it more intuitive to use existing Skype features like screen sharing.
Skype plans to update its Mac client by the end of the year with group video calling, and I assume that it would roll out Facebook integration on that platform at the same time.
It’ll be interesting to see where the company goes from here. It is surely working on bringing video chat to its mobile clients eventually, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we heard a Google TV announcement from the company (“Back to the Future”-esque images of 10-person video chats in my living room come to mind). Skype already offers TV-based video calling on Samsung and Panasonic TVs.