Skype Technologies SA founder Niklas Zennstrom, who also co-developed the Internet file-sharing program Kazaa, made the announcement at an Internet-phone conference Wednesday in Markham, north of Toronto.
He said final bugs were being worked out of the Skype software's "beta" or trial version, which already has at least 5.5 million users worldwide. An official release is scheduled for the summer.
"Today it's the fastest-growing Internet software ever, much faster than Kazaa,'' Zennstrom said.
Zennstrom, who at 37 resembles a younger Bill Gates with drip dry hair, spectacles, pressed shirt, and blue blazer, appears out to undermine telephone companies in the same way Kazaa skewered record labels, but he's not facing the same legal hurdles that forced him to sell Kazaa in 2002.
The basic Skype program, offered as a free download over the Internet, allows people to use their computers as telephones to call others equipped with Skype software. Techies call the technology VoIP, for voice over Internet protocol.
Zennstrom also plans to offer this summer--the dates remain tentative--a paid version called Skype Plus that will collect voice mail and allow people to call it from regular telephones.
That will be accompanied by another paid version, called SkypeOut, that will allow Skype computers to call regular phones and will be compatible with regular cordless and headset telephones. Zennstrom was elusive on when it will be available and how much it will cost.
Zennstrom's background may be software, but he knows users need hardware. He's negotiating with Siemens AG for cordless phones with the Skype application and is also talking to headset maker Plantronics Inc.