Skype Responds

I really don’t want to turn my site into «This Week in Skype.»1 So I probably won’t write about Skype for a while, at least until there’s a major new version. But I do need to link to Skype’s «An update on Skype for Mac» blog post.

They acknowledge that there is a problem, and offer three solutions.

First, we’re making Skype 2.8 available for download from our website, and it’ll be available for the foreseeable future.

This is good, and I’m glad they’re making it official. Skype 2.8 still works,2 and Skype says it will continue to do so. Thank you for publicly committing to this, Skype.

Second, we’re planning to make some additional changes which will allow you to multitask more effectively within Skype, including a change to the UI which will allow you to continue an IM conversation with one person or group while participating in a video call with another, or when switching to another app.

They don’t propose any concrete solution, so this could go either way. It really depends on how they design it. Hopefully, they won’t try to fix Skype by adding more little widgets that allow people to see more stuff inside the main window.

We plan to introduce overlay panels like the contact monitor to provide additional flexibility for those of you who need it.

This doesn’t sound good. In most situations, the contact monitor just doesn’t work well. I suspect that adding more floating panels won’t solve most people’s problems. Skype should get rid of the contact monitor, rather than adding more of these band-aids.

I’m glad that Skype is doing something, and that they are publicly acknowledging that there is a problem. But what they’re promising doesn’t instill much confidence. Essentially, it seems that it is their plan to simply add more stuff to Skype. That’s usually not how you solve usability issues.

In my experience, Skype 5 isn’t just worse for experienced users, it’s also worse for novice users. Skype acknowledges the former, but claims that it is the result of a trade-off: they made Skype 5 intentionally worse for experienced users in order to make it better for novice or casual users. Now, Skype 5 does offer advantages for new users: defaulting to a single window is a good idea. Putting the «Add Contact» button in a prominent place is a good idea (the old version of Skype offered a poor first-run experience). But overall, Skype 5 is more complex and more cumbersome than earlier versions. The casual users I’ve observed using it most certainly didn’t prefer it over Skype 2.8. This is not an issue of advanced users versus casual users; Skype 5 causes issues for both groups.

So I’m not sure how well Skype’s proposed solutions will work. They might turn out well. I’m hoping that they will. I’m not complaining about Skype because I don’t like the guys at Skype. I’m complaining about Skype because it’s a great product that I and my friends and colleagues use every single day.

I want Skype to be better.

  1. Complaining about other people’s work isn’t fun; I’d much rather cover positive developments↩︎

  2. The 2.8 download page proudly proclaims «Improve your Skype experience with this version of Skype for Mac.» ↩︎

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