When Microsoft bought Skype some years ago, disgruntled users—with questions about security, account access, and call quality—went in search of alternatives to the uber-affordable phone-and-video conferencing service. Turns out there are plenty of applications from which to choose, and we'll show you some that offer free and low-cost calling as well as video calls and screen sharing.
When considering an alternative to Skype it helps to first identify how you actually use Skype. If you use it to make free calls to landlines and mobile phones, you'll find alternative applications for that. You can also fine good alternatives for screen sharing, video conferencing and texting. Some of these applications may require that your contacts use the same application, while others do not. Some require you to sign up using a cell phone, which also acts as your id.
5 Skype Alternatives for Small Business
Google offers a range of tools that, when combined, make a good replacement for Skype. Google Hangouts lets up to ten participants share video streams, share their computer screens and also talk at the same time. All you need to participate in a Google Hangout is a Gmail account or a Google Plus account.
Google Hangouts are free group video conferences which can include screen sharing.
Google applications support Windows, Mac and Linux, and the Google Plus app for Android and iOS users gives access to hangouts on mobile devices. Google has the benefit of being fairly well received, so it's likely that most people you contact have Google IDs and will be fairly well versed in using Google Hangouts.
Google Voice provides an alternative for free and low-cost calling, but it also acts as a unified system for managing both incoming and outgoing phone calls. Calls to the U.S. and Canada are—for the most part—free, and international calls are fairly inexpensive. The gotcha for Google Voice is that it is available only in the US and—to use it—you need a mobile phone with a U.S. phone number. Google Voice also offers free text messages from both its Web and mobile applications, and replies to these messages can be sent both to your phone and to your email address.
At its simplest Google offers free calls from inside Gmail - just click the handset icon and dial.
If you simply want to make free domestic phone calls, then you can call a landline or cell phone from inside Gmail—just look for the handset icon on the left side of the screen. Click it, type the number, and then click to dial it. It's all seamless, and it doesn't require anything more your Gmail account and, in most cases, it is free.
OoVoo is a popular video chat application that allows up to twelve participants to enter a free conference call complete with video. The ad-supported application is available for Mac, Windows, iPhone, Amazon Fire Phone, and Android. OoVoo provides many handy add-ons including call recording, picture messaging and screen sharing. In addition it integrates with Facebook so you can invite friends to OoVoo by posting an invitation on your Facebook wall.
OoVoo's free, ad-supported video chat application supports up to 12 people at a time.
For conferences that you want to share, Oovoo provides a built-in feature for uploading recorded sessions to YouTube. You can make cheap calls to landlines and mobile phones using OoVoo credits, and you can upgrade to a Premium plan to remove the ads from video calls and text messages at your end of the connection People who connect with you would need their own premium plan to remove ads at their end of the conversation.
Viber an ad-free instant messaging and VoIP application for smart phones, supports a range of devices including Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone. To use Viber on a desktop you must first install Viber on a cell phone; your phone number acts as your Viber identity.
You need a mobile phone to use Viber's free VoIP and messaging application.
Use Viber to make free voice calls and video calls worldwide but, like Skype, both the calling and the receiving parties must have Viber installed on their devices to communicate for free. If you use an iPhone or an Android device, you can use Viber Out to call any landline or mobile anywhere in the world for a small fee.
Fans of open source software will appreciate Jitsi—a secure java application for making audio calls and video chats as well as for sharing desktops. Jitsi lets you record and encrypt calls, as well as communicate via instant messaging.
An open source app with an emphasis on security, Jitsi offers audio and video chats, as well as messaging.
Jitsi also supports a large number of chat protocols, which lets you chat with users via applications such as Google Talk, Facebook, MSN, AIM, Yahoo Messenger, ICQ and more. Jitsi is available for Windows, Mac, Linux and Android.
WhatsApp Messenger is a free, cross-platform SMS service that supports iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows phone and Nokia. The service uses the phone's data plan to send messages which can include photos, videos and recorded voice messages. Like Viber, WhatsApp uses your phone number as your personal ID.
WhatsApp lets you send free text messages and attach photos, videos, and short recordings.
If you want to pull the plug on Skype, these five apps provide mostly free domestic calls and inexpensive international calls from your desktop or mobile, as well as messaging, conferencing and screen-sharing.
Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com
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