Five years ago, if you would’ve asked me for recommendations on a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) program, there was only one program available: Skype. For the past few years, Skype sat at #1 in VoIP software. And if the Internet has taught me anything, it’s that nothing ever stays at the top for very long.
In 2011, Microsoft made a somewhat surprising move when it bought Skype for $8.5 billion. Soon after, bloggers all over the Internet began to question Microsoft’s ability to maintain the project’s quality. Was Skype now doomed to fail or would Microsoft improve it? What about the issue of privacy? Or advertisements during calls?
If for whatever reason you no longer want to use Skype, then rest assured in knowing that there are plenty of alternative programs out there. They may not be as polished or prevalent as Skype, but they certainly get the job done. And best of all, every program on this list is absolutely free!
It’s almost expected that Google would have some sort of competition in the area of VoIP and Internet chatting. But behold–Google actually has three different programs that you can use as alternatives to Skype. It all depends on what you were using Skype for.
If you need a quick and easy way to set up group video conferences, look no further than Google Hangouts. Not only are video chat sessions free, you can add up to 8 other participants for a total of 10. The calls are high quality and intuitively designed. Find out why Google Hangouts are cool than Skype for video chats.
If you just need a service that lets you call other people over the Internet, then Google Voice is your solution. Assign yourself a Voice-provided phone number that you can use for everything no matter what your phone or service provider is. Through Google Voice, you can make free calls to anywhere in the U.S. or Canada; everywhere else has extremely low rates.
If it’s instant messaging that you need, use Google Talk. As a bonus, you can use Google Talk to initiate private video chat sessions; all you need to do is install a plugin. Google Talk interfaces with Gchat (on Gmail), iGoogle, and Orkut.
Jitsi is a powerful piece of software that specializes in VoIP. Not only can it perform audio calls and video chats, but it can also stream and share desktops over the Internet, record calls, encrypt calls, and instant message. It even has a few neat features like echo cancellation and noise suppression (for those with poor quality mics or noisy rooms).
Jitsi supports a wide number of Internet chatting protocols, including: SIP, XMPP (Jabber, Google Talk, Facebook), MSN, AIM, Yahoo!, ICQ, and Bonjour. Jitsi is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
With VoxOx, you can easily make audio or video calls to your friends. VoxOx-to-VoxOx calls are entirely free, so if your friends all use VoxOx, then you’ll all benefit. However, VoxOx can still be used to call real telephone numbers and send text messages at cheap rates.
On their overview page, it’s immediately apparent that VoxOx really likes their free features. Here’s what you get for free: personal phone number, voicemail, inbound calls/texts/faxes, conference calls, chat and social features, file sharing, and more. VoxOx is available on Windows and Mac.
With goober, you can call your fellow goober buddies through audio or video calling. The VoIP feature is free if you’re calling another goober user, else it will cost low rates depending on the location of the receiver. Video calls are free but can only occur goober-to-goober. Conference calls are all free; audio conferences can hold an unlimited number of participants but video conferences are limited to 6.
From the looks of it, it seems like goober wants to be more of a social networking tool. The built-in instant messenger can communicate with AIM, MSN, ICQ, Jabber, Google Talk, Yahoo! and more. You can link and interact with Facebook and Twitter straight through goober, too. goober is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Ekiga is an open-source program that specializes in VoIP, video calling, and instant messaging. Right out of the box, it supports high quality audio and high-definition video at DVD quality. The user interface is easy to learn and simple to use. Audio and video calls are free over the Internet; calls to phones will cost low rates.
Ekiga is available for Windows and Linux.
If you really only use Skype for its video chatting features, then ooVoo may be the replacement for you. Video calls are extremely simple to set up and conferences can hold up to 12 participants. For the times you don’t need video, you can instant message. ooVoo supports calling to phones but you’ll need to purchase ooVoo credits first.
ooVoo has a Premium upgrade available that enables desktop sharing between users in a call and removes advertisements. Yes, ooVoo’s free version is supported by ads. ooVoo is available for Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone, and Facebook.
Skype was once the top dog in the world of free video conferencing and VoIP, but that throne has a lot of contesting kings now. It doesn’t matter where you live or what operating system you use, there is always a Skype alternative available. It’s not like Skype is completely off the table right now, but if it doesn’t please you anymore, these will get the job done.
Are there any that I’ve missed? Free video conferencing / VoIP tools are hard to come by, so if you know of any others, please share them in the comments. Or just let us know your experiences with the ones already on this list!