Skype (s msft) released a new version of its OS X (s aapl) client Tuesday. Version 5.2 introduced group screen sharing in addition to group video calling, which has been available since the Skype 5.0 beta for Mac. Both are useful features, but you can only take advantage of them if you happen to be a Skype Premium subscriber.
For non-Premium users, there are some improvements that make it a worthwhile upgrade from version 5.1. For one, it seems to be a lot less buggy than previous versions, which for me frequently had trouble with landline calls and some freezing issues. The UI also boasts some small changes, like the ability to completely hide the sidebar menu to make it easier to focus on a single conversation. You can also now pop out video controls in a small hovering window when you interact with other applications or your desktop. This keeps the person you’re talking with on top and visible, and also allows you quick access to hang up and mute commands.
The changes should appeal to Skype power-users, and especially those Premium subscribers who use group calling for meetings and virtual conferences. The new screen-sharing options (limited to OS X for now) make video chat a whole lot more productive, and Skype still offers the best video chat quality of any of the various OS X options that I’ve seen. Our readers seem to agree, as more than half chose Skype as their Mac video chat client of choice in our recent poll. It’s nice to see that even after acquisition by Microsoft, Skype’s presence on other platforms isn’t being ignored, especially now that Google (s goog) seems to be interested in making a big play in the group video chat market.
Unfortunately, the new UI Skype introduced in 5.0 and refined slightly in 5.1 remains largely unchanged. It’s still too big and obtrusive for an app that would be served better by being more inconspicuous. There are quite a few tutorials out there providing instructions for downgrading to the more simplified and minimalist Skype 2.8, and if you’re not a Premium user, this new version doesn’t really offer much incentive to upgrade. Since group calling and group screen sharing only require one Premium user to initiate, however, you might want to suck it up and make the switch, just so you can use the new features if a request to do so comes your way.