Skype is a popular provider of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) connection, video chatting, and instant messaging (IM). With a camera and microphone, you can participate in audio or video conversations as well as IM by using Skype. An alternative interface for Skype is a different VoIP service, a different video chat service, or interfacing with the Skype service through a different application.
Skype's protocol is proprietary. Thus, it isn't possible to use a different software interface with Skype's VoIP or video protocols. This is Skype's way of protecting its brand and market share from being eroded by competitors using the same systems. However, it's possible to use a different interface for the IM feature of Skype.
Many VoIP clients use the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) to connect voice conversations over the Internet. Using SIP allows users of one VoIP client to communicate with users of another client since they are using the same protocol. Other VoIP alternatives to Skype include GoogleTalk, iChat for Macintosh computers and MSN Messenger from Microsoft.
Other popular VoIP clients have also added video chat support, so iChat, GoogleTalk, and MSN Messenger can also connect to a webcam and microphone on your computer to allow you to see and hear the person with whom you're chatting. Mobile phones may also support video calls with the iPhone 4 and the Evo 4G, offering video calls on the go. Many alternatives to Skype are available for video chatting.
The one place where you can use the Skype system without using the Skype interface is when you send an instant message. Several Skype-compatible IM services and programs are available (see Resources) that will allow you to connect to users on Skype. Because of the proprietary protocol that Skype uses, you'll need to have the Skype software running on your computer if you want to use an IM client to access Skype features.
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