Microsoft links Skype voice, video calling to Outlook.com

The Microsoft service is available in the U.K. this week, the rest of the world this summer

Microsoft is rolling Skype in with its free Outlook.com email service, giving customers the ability to fire up VoIP calls directly from their mail inbox.

Within weeks the Skype for Outlook.com will be available in the U.S. and Germany, but for now is just deploying in the U.K., according to the Skype Big Blog. It will be available worldwide this summer.

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The new Skype service includes both audio and video calls, so together Skype and Outlook.com will support voice, video, email and instant messaging.

The Outlook.com version of Skype requires a browser plugin for Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox, but it must be the latest version of each. Using customers' Microsoft accounts, they connect Skype to Outlook.com.

Those who already have a Skype account have to manually connect it to their Microsoft account, which merges Skype and Outlook.com contacts.

Once Skype has been added to the account, Skype audio and video call buttons appear in the same window with IM chats. If a user is reading email and wants to call the sender, the user mouses over the picture of the sender that appears with the email and left clicks on the appropriate Skype button to set up the call.

Skype for Outlook.com is part of a larger effort of integrating Skype with existing Microsoft platforms. It is already integrated with the Microsoft Lync unified communication platform for voice calls, instant messaging interoperability and shared presence information.

The company promised in February to integrate Skype video calls in Lync within a year so that customers making calls on Windows Phone 8 devices can connect via Skype.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

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