With the advent of Windows 8, every piece of software made by Microsoft seems to be getting a makeover this week — from Office 2013 (available for download from MSDN) to Skype (which, while officially being released on October 26th, 2012, is available now from the US Windows Store and other countries that are able to use US proxies).
I have been able to use the touch-enabled version of Skype — which is meant for Windows tablets, primarily — and it’s a frustrating experience on a traditional computer. Just like the About section says, it truly is a first version. More than 80% of the options available on the desktop version are absent. This is probably by design, but it’s still a questionable simplification. It sure looks pretty with its modern minimalism and sleek white look, but it feels overly limited compared to the desktop version of Skype. Early reviews indicate a similar experience with Windows RT.
Everything around your profile in the touch-enabled version will send you to the Skype website, while in the desktop version you can do this without being forced into your browser. The Settings dialog is actually the only option you have in this version. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to use this on a touch-screen device, for which it was clearly designed. There, the experience will probably be much more satisfying.
A cool feature in Skype for Windows 8 is Snap. You can simply use Snap to keep Skype to the side while using traditional desktop applications. With the Snap feature, you don’t cover any of your screen content while chatting or talking about it. This way, you can always see the chat, which is otherwise only possible if you have two monitors. There is no screen sharing in this version, though.
Another big change is the binding of your Skype and Microsoft account. When you sign in for the first time, you will be asked to merge your two accounts, combining both your Skype and Windows Live accounts into one single list. Skype 6.0 (desktop) has added chatting for Facebook and Live Messenger, but audio and video calls with Windows Live Messenger contacts will be added later. I’m not sure if you can bypass this or not. There was no apparent option to sign in with Skype credentials directly.
Beyond this, you will find all the same calling, video, and group options that you’re probably used to if you’re a regular Skype user. File sharing, however, doesn’t seem possible — at least I couldn’t find any way to do it now. Surely this first version will get some much-needed polish in the inevitable updates to follow. All in all, though, it’s stable and smooth — a good example of how awaited apps like Spotify and VLC could and should look. With Skype for Windows 8, the Windows Store continues to grow, but it also shows that a lot of work lies ahead.