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First beta of Skype for Mac OS X seeded to testers

The first external beta version of Skype Technologies' free voice over IP (VoIP) software for Mac OS X has been distributed to a limited number of testers and is expected to reach public beta in the coming months.

A free and simple piece of software from the developers of KaZaA, Skype uses innovative P2P (peer-to-peer) technology that lets users make free calls anywhere in the world to other Skype users.

The software—currently available for both Windows and Linux (Beta)—aims to address all the problems of legacy VoIP solutions such bad sound quality, difficult configuration, and the need for expensive, centralized infrastructure.

Similar to Apple's iChat, Skype also includes instant message and file transfer capabilities, but reportedly boasts superior audio quality. Additionally, Skype features conference calling and a technology called SkypeOut, which enables Skype users to pre-pay and call any land-line phone number in the world at highly competitive local rates.

Although Skype Technologies had originally intended to release a public beta of Skype for Mac OS X in June, the company only just recently delivered the first private seed of the software to testers, labeled as beta version 0.5.0.

Weighing in at just over 6.5 MB, the private beta is only partly functional, excluding such capabilities as multi-user conference calling. However, audio functionality is fully implemented, allowing users to place calls to one another simply by selecting usernames in a buddy-list style window and hitting the "call" button.

One of the criticisms of Skype is that works over a proprietary protocol, which means that it won't interoperate with other services. Still, the company claims to have served nearly 20 million downloads of the application over the last year, and an approximate 400,000 users are actively logged into Skype's servers at all times.

On the other hand, Skype uses 256-bit AES encryption—the same level of encryption is used by many government agencies to make calls secure—making the technology more secure than ordinary telephone calls.

Sources privy to Skype's development plans claim that the public beta of Skype is still a month or two away and categorize the software as one of the greatest freebees to hit the Mac OS X platform in recent years.