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The people who brought you KaZaA have released a software product called Skype, which uses P2P (peer-to-peer) technology to connect to other users. Not to share files or music this time, but to talk and chat with your friends.

OK, so it’s not a revolutionary idea. Most internet telephony products, like Net2Phone, are based on P2P or two-way communications; but Skype founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis claim their network uses every available resource to route communications in the most efficient way possible, so the connections should be more reliable. Skype also says it partnered with the best acoustic scientists in the business to deliver sound quality superior to even a fixed telephone line.

As with most chat programs, buddy lists show you when your friends are online and ready to talk or chat. All calls are encrypted end-to-end. Skype uses the 256-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), which is also used by U.S. Government organizations. Since you ask Skype can also do simple Instant Messaging.

The software works with all firewall, NAT and routers, with nothing to configure. This is why the Skype founders think their product is so much better than most voice-over-IP applications, which almost never work from behind firewalls and NAT. Only some very strict corporate firewalls which only authorize TCP connections on a restricted number of ports may not allow Skype to connect at the moment.

The beta software (under 3 Megs) is free. You need a PC running Windows 2000 or XP, a 400 MHz processor, 128Mb of memory, a sound card, speakers and a microphone and a broadband Internet connection.

Skype uses its own URL callto:// to connect directly to users, but the company also plans to hook up to plain old telephony networks. For a modest fee, obviously. ®

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