Over a year ago, Microsoft promised Outlook.com users that Skype would be integrated into the email service and would one day replace Messenger. That day has finally arrived – at least for users in the UK. According to Skype, Microsoft began rolling out a preview version of Outlook.com with Skype integration to users across the pond yesterday and plans to roll it out to the U.S. and Germany in the next few weeks with a goal of worldwide availability by summer. An added bonus? Availability of Skype’s video voicemail service increased today, too.
How will you know when Skype is available in your Outlook.com account? A banner will drop down on the right side of your Outlook.com screen. You’ll be able to send instant messages to both your Skype contacts and your Messenger contacts right away, but you’ll need a plug-in to initiate voice and video chat in your browser, whether it’s Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome. Additionally, you’ll have to merge your Skype account with your Outlook.com account to get video chat up and running.
If you’re familiar with placing video calls in Gmail, placing a Skype call in Outlook.com is very similar. Once the plug-in is installed, you’ll be able to start a video call by hovering over a contact’s name in an e-mail thread. A box will appear with icons for sending e-mail, messaging, phone calling, and video calling. Clicking on the video icon will initiate the call. Another way to start a video call is by clicking on the Messaging button on the upper right-hand side of the screen. Video chat is also available through the People section of Outlook.com by clicking on a contact.
Now that video chat has come to Outlook.com, Microsoft’s mail service is finally on par with Google’s Gmail, which has had phone and video calls since late 2008. To be fair, integrating a service as large as Skype into Outlook.com, which rose from the ashes of Hotmail, Windows Live, and MSN, is no easy feat.
In other Skype news, video voicemail messages are now available for Windows 7 and up, though the official Windows 8 app will arrive in a few weeks so users will have to download and install Skype 6.5 beta for Windows desktop and Flash to try it. The Skype service allows users to leave three-minute video messages for contacts who aren’t available. Oddly enough, video voicemail launched in February on Android, iOS, and Mac OS X, but it’s just coming to Windows now. Users with free Skype accounts are able to send 20 video voicemails, while premium account holders may send unlimited messages.
Microsoft released a few videos explaining the marriage of Skype and Outlook.com (and a cautionary tattoo tale), which we’ve posted below.
[Image via Skype Big Blog]