Enhancing Skype

by Wei-Meng Lee

In my last article, I showed you how to set up Skype to make voice calls over the Internet. While Skype allows voice communication, it is not limited to just that. Several third-party developers have started developing extensions using Skype APIs. In this article, I am going to share two of the many extensions that I find indispensable. They are:

You can check out a list of Skype extensions.

Note: When I wrote this article, Festoon was called Skype, but has since been renamed Festoon.


Festoon is a Skype extension that allows you to conduct video conferencing with your friends using your web cam. You can download it from the Festoon home page. While Festoon claims that you can invite up to 200 buddies to a video call, I could not verify this claim as I was not able to simultaneously get 200 of my friends for a video chat! But I did test Festoon using my local network of two PCs, both equipped with web cams (see Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1. The two web cams I used to test Festoon

Once Festoon is downloaded and installed, you will see a pop up showing the message: "Another program wants to use Skype." Ensure that you grant Festoon the permission, or else Festoon will not work correctly.

The first step is to test that your web cam works correctly with Festoon. The easiest way is to test it using the network provided by Festoon. To do so, go to Start->Programs->Festoon->Make a Test Call. Figure 2 shows me making a test call.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Making a test call

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Once Festoon is installed, you will notice that the Festoon icon is located at the top of the Skype window (see Figure 3).

Figure 3
Figure 3. The Festoon icon, in a previous incarnation as vSkype

To make a video call to a friend, click on the Festoon icon and select the participant(s). Click the Add>> button to add participants. When you are ready, click Start (see Figure 4).

Figure 4
Figure 4. Adding participants to a video call

Here, I am calling another user (Margaret Tan; which is a test account I created). On Margaret's end, she will see a message indicating the video call invitation (see Figure 5).

Figure 5
Figure 5. A pop up indicating the video call invitation

Margaret will also see the invitation in the Chat window (see Figure 6). To answer the call, simply click on the hyperlink in the Chat window.

Figure 6
Figure 6. Respond to the invitation by clicking on the hyperlink

Festoon will invoke the web browser and display the page as shown in Figure 7. If Margaret already has Festoon installed, she can click the Join the Call button. If she does not have Festoon, she can click on the Get Festoon button to download Festoon.

Figure 7
Figure 7. Answering the call

That's it! Margaret should be able to start on a video chat (see Figure 8).

Figure 8
Figure 8. Video chatting

Overall, I find the video quality acceptable on a local network. Your mileage might vary, depending on your network connection and its quality. The four buttons at the bottom of the Festoon window allows you to enable/disable video and audio chats, as well as configure audio settings and invite additional participants to the chat.

Besides video chatting, Festoon supports sharing of applications (even the entire desktop) with your participants (see Figure 9). For example, I can selectively pick the application I want to share with my caller through the menu named Sharing.

Figure 9
Figure 9. Sharing applications

In this example, I have selected to share IE with my caller, and so you will notice that IE will display a message indicating that it is shared (see Figure 10).

Figure 10
Figure 10. Sharing IE through Festoon

On the recipient's end, they will see the content of your IE in a Festoon presentation window (see Figure 11). If there are changes to the original IE window, the changes would be downloaded and updated in the window. Note that the updating is not instantaneous and tends to be slow.

Figure 11
Figure 11. Showing the IE of the sharer in the Festoon presentation window

For more information about Festoon, checkout the Festoon FAQ.

Skype Answering Machine (SAM)

SAM is an extension for Skype that acts as an answering machine. You can download SAM from the main SAM page.

Once SAM is installed, callers can leave you messages if you fail to answer the call within a certain period of time. The users will see a pop up indicating that the call is answered by SAM (see Figure 12).

Figure 12
Figure 12. The pop up indicating the call is answered by SAM

On your computer, you will see a list of voice mails on the screen (see Figure 13).

Figure 13
Figure 13. List of voice messages

Double-click on the messages to listen to the recordings (see Figure 14).

Figure 14
Figure 14. Listening to the recorded voice messages

You can also invoke the window shown in Figure 13 using the SAM icon in the Tray (see Figure 15).

Figure 15
Figure 15. The SAM icon in the Tray

The Options tab allows you to configure the various details of how SAM works (see Figure 16).

Figure 16
Figure 16. Configuring SAM


In this article, you have seen how extensions enhance the capabilities of Skype. If you have your favorite extensions for Skype, tell us in the Talkback below!

Wei-Meng Lee (Microsoft MVP) http://weimenglee.blogspot.com is a technologist and founder of Developer Learning Solutions http://www.developerlearningsolutions.com, a technology company specializing in hands-on training on the latest Microsoft technologies.

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