Skype Click to Call maintenance
Skype is a household name. There is no bigger player in the field of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) than Skype. So ubiquitous is the company that its very name has entered the international lexicon as a verb in the same way as Google.
Like any leading company, Skype is constantly seeking to improve those products and services, always looking around the IT world to identify and exploit opportunities as they arise.
In 2007, Skype comes up with the concept of developing a plug-in that would allow users to make phone calls, send SMS messages, or start video conferences with any other Skype user, all with just a single click of the mouse. All the user would need would be the other party’s number or screen name. The advantages of such a development to the individual user are obvious: the convenience and speed of one-click connections instead cutting and pasting numbers or Skype user names, from a browser or e-mail, into the Skype application.
For companies and businesses, the advantages are rather more profound than simple convenience. Suddenly their potential customers will be able to contact them with a single mouse click on a link embedded in a marketing e-mail or in a page on a website. It will remove an activity that a potential customer would have to perform; the more activities the potential customer has to perform, the less likely it is that he or she will make initial contact. Access to such a marketing advantage will, of course, persuade more companies to register with Skype, thereby enhancing Skype’s profitability. Part of the challenge will be that the service must be able to run on all the popular web browsers, as well as within Microsoft’s Office Suite, and on Mac and Linux operating systems. This will require a number of bespoke (custom software) solutions to the same challenge.
Skype turns to Softage to assist them with designing and developing this new service and, in a relationship that is to last three years, our team of developers works closely with Skype’s own people to deliver what is dubbed the Skype Web Toolbars. There is a separate toolbar for each application and for each browser. Further product development over the next few years sees these toolbars evolve into what we now know as Skype Click to Call.
The beauty of Skype Click to Call is that it is entirely intuitive and requires no input from the user. Once installed, the application scans documents, e-mails and web pages for any Skype phone numbers and screen names and highlights them in the shade of blue familiar to all Skype users. When the user hovers the mouse pointer over the name or number a small menu box appears allowing giving the option of calling it or of sending an SMS message. The user can also send documents to the link’s owner. The plug-in is specifically designed to work equally well with Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome on the PC, and with Safari on the Mac. It finds and highlights phone numbers and Skype contact names in MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, and also works in reverse, allowing the author of a document to turn phone numbers or text into embedded Skype links.
It performs the same function with equal facility in MS Outlook, where the user is given the ability to make Skype calls to people who have sent an e-mail containing a number or screen name. It allows users to make Skype calls to people in their contact list, and to see when they are online. Finally, it can add a Skype button to outgoing e-mails.
Tools and technologies
With such a complicated series of challenges on which to deliver, and to guarantee the same functionality across not just different browsers, but also across three distinct operating systems, our developers draw deeply on their broad range of skills, tools, and techniques.
For the Microsoft products (including the Windows operating system, Microsoft Office Suite and Outlook) the team employs both the 2005 and 2010 versions of Microsoft Visual Studio integrated development environment, the Windows Template Library, and Active Template Library. Performing the same tasks on the Mac requires the use of the XCode 3 series. To engineer the tool into Firefox requires deep familiarity with the Gecko software development kit, whereas all the browser work calls for a thorough understanding of the Netscape Plug-in Application Programming Interface (or NPAPI); POCO; and the Boost Loki C++ Libraries.