The day is finally here, Chromebook users. Microsoft launched Skype for Web worldwide this week, enabling access to Skype instant messaging on Chromebooks. Previously, Microsoft was blocking Chromebooks from accessing earlier versions of Skype for Web.
This is a big change for Microsoft. Microsoft still pushes Skype as a competitive advantage for Windows, noting that Chromebooks can’t install Skype. Now, after killing the Skype “Modern app” that was bundled with Windows 8.1, Microsoft just launched a Skype web app—one that works for Chromebooks, too. Somewhat.
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Chatting on Skype on a Chromebook
Skype for Web functions on practically any device—Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chromebook. But it’s most interesting on a Chromebook, as Windows, Mac, and even Linux have official Skype desktop applications.
Visit web.skype.com and you’ll be able to log in with a Skype name or Microsoft account. Skype for Web offers a familiar interface where you can chat with your contacts and send instant messages. Conversations and recent messages sync between all your devices. Skype for Web also offers browser-based notifications, so you’ll get notifications of new messages on your Chromebook’s desktop.
Previously, some Skype instant message functionality was available on Outlook.com if you knew where to look, but this is the real deal for Chromebook users. Yes, there are many other chat programs, but it’s all about where your contacts are. Not everyone’s friends and family are all going to switch to Google Hangouts!
Voice and video aren’t available yet, but Microsoft is working on it
On Windows and Mac, Skype for Web offers support for voice and video calls using a plug-in. This is the same way that Skype offered voice calls on Outlook.com, and the same way Google used to offer voice calls in Gmail with Google Talk.
But Chromebooks can’t install older browser plug-ins like this—it’s the same reason why you can’t install the Java web plug-in on a Chromebook. That means Chromebooks are left out of Skype voice and video chats, for now.
Microsoft has announced plans to support WebRTC in Skype for Web. WebRTC is a cross-browser standard for plug-in-free real-time voice and video communication on the web. The technology’s currently in progress and not finalized, although it’s already supported in Chrome and Firefox. Google’s own Hangouts service uses WebRTC for plug-in-free voice and video calls, and so does Firefox Hello.
As a post on the official Skype blog reads, “We aim to make browser-based calls more convenient by removing the need to download a plugin.” Microsoft is working collaboratively on the ORTC API for WebRTC, which will make this a reality. It’s not clear exactly when this will happen, but voice and video calls should be supported on Chromebooks at some point not too far in the future.
Until then, you can use Skype instant-messaging on your Chromebook and pull out your phone when it’s time to voice or video chat. Or, use Google’s Android runtime to run the Skype for Android app on your Chromebook and get voice and video calls today.