Starting Wednesday, users of Skype Technologies VoIP service are being offered a free video, voice, and data-sharing service developed by Santa Cruz Networks. The vSkype Beta is presented in both peer-to-peer and server-based solutions.
When the beta testing period is concluded, Santa Cruz Networks said it plans to permit group videos of up to four users to continue free of charge. The service uses Skype's existing Instant Messaging feature as a platform and can accommodate up to 200 users at one time.
"The server approach offers multi-party communication," said Stuart Jacobson, Santa Cruz CEO, in an interview. He said his company is using its long experience with hundreds of thousands of networking users and bundling much of that experience into the vSkype offering.
Jacobson foresees introducing many features and plug-ins in the future. For business users, vSkype will enable users to share spreadsheets, presentations, whiteboards, and other business-oriented applications. The service enables archiving and recording capability of sessions as well as moderator control of numerous users. While many individual features are offered elsewhere, Jacobson believes Santa Cruz has uniquely compiled so many in one place.
"Skype can be a wild community," Jacobson noted. "So we have moderator control." The server-based segment of vSkype enables scores of users to be in the same session, which requires oversight.
"What's most fun about Skype is that it has the world's early adopters [of new technology]," he added, observing that he envisions data-sharing features to spread to other online communities in time.
For younger, less-business-oriented users, Santa Cruz will offer drawing tools, wallpaper, and backdrop settings enabling a user with a Web cam to be presented, for example, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. Camera games represent another feature in which users, for instance, can bounce balls off each other or play basketball. "These are just fun things that we hope people will buy," said Jacobson. "It's like ring-tones."
How does Skype feel about all this?
The VoIP colossus, which has seen more than 100 million users download its software, is embracing the Santa Cruz application. It helps, too, that the two firms share a common investor and board member--Tim Draper of Draper, Fisher, Jurvetson. Skype's co-founder and chief executive Niklas Zennstroem said of vSkype: "With this API, Skype is now an open platform and we are keen to watch the world's innovative developer community integrate the Skype application to extend the potential of global communications."
In an early test of the service a few days ago, Jacobson said the application worked flawlessly, linking users successfully in different countries including Japan, Sweden, and Canada.