Everyone knows Skype, even if they don't use it, and Microsoft's acquisition of the app and company back in 2011 for $8.5 billion (around £6.5 billion) looks like a very shrewd bit of business. It now sits at the center of communications for Office 365 (or Office 2019 if you're making a one-off purchase), covering video, audio and text chat.
Given that Skype was acquired rather than developed from scratch inside Microsoft, it's perhaps no surprise that it doesn't feel quite as well integrated into Office 365 as the likes of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. Nevertheless it still fits in very well.
Office 365 gives you access to Skype for Business, with some extra features we'll mention below. If you're a smaller company though, or a sole trader, you can of course just stick with the standard edition of Skype.
Skype for Office 365: interface
Skype has gone through various different interface changes down the years, but the one it has settled on for the moment gets most of the form and functionality right. In other words, it concentrates on the actual video and audio calling, and keeps everything else pushed to the background.
You get your chats, calls and contacts down one side of the screen, and your actual conversations down the other. If you make audio and video calls, they take a pleasingly simple form, and all the features you're going to need are easily accessible – whether you want to hang up on someone or send a file to them.
Skype is smart enough to crop the most important parts of a video feed to show the person talking and cut out the background decor, and it also does well at handling multiple faces on the screen at once. You can actually have up to 250 people on the same conference call with Skype for Office 365 or Office 2019.
We've found Skype to be reliable and intuitive to use, by and large, in our time with it, but if you do need to tweak settings or try and troubleshoot problems then the options you need aren't difficult to find. Testing video and audio before a call is easy, for example.
If there are faults with Skype, they're certainly nothing to do with the interface, which is clean and presentable throughout, no matter what platform you're using. A complete beginner could pick up the software in seconds, and you can't ask much more than that.
Skype for Office 365: features
Skype for Business in Office 365 (or Office 2019) has plenty of nifty features, including the ability to include up to 250 people on the same conference call, as we've already mentioned. All the basics of video and audio calling, as well as text chat and file sharing, are covered, and Skype integrates reasonably well with the rest of the Office suite.
Participants can be invited with a direct call or a URL, PowerPoints can be shared (and annotated) within calls, participants can share their screens with other people on a call, and so on – it's hard to think of a feature that you might need that isn't included.
By purchasing Office you get a bunch of extra features that aren't available to normal (consumer) users of Skype. They include round-the-clock technical support, guaranteed 99.99% uptime for your company, and built-in meeting recording tools. You can also run polls and Q&As inside Skype.
As we've said, Skype doesn't always integrate seamlessly into the rest of Office, but you will find a few useful touches here and there, like the ability to drop Skype links into appointments created in Outlook. Contacts management is done well too – you can always see who's available on Skype and who isn't.
For now Skype stands as a separate audio and video calling app you can access from anywhere, but take note that Microsoft Teams (pictured above) is the future of communication in Office 365 – and is only available on the more expensive Business Premium plan. It'll be interesting to see Microsoft's plans for Skype going forward.
Skype for Office 365: mobile and web
You can get on Skype on the web, although the interface isn't as modern and the feature set isn't as rich as with the full desktop app – that's really what you're going to be using most of the time, unless you suddenly find yourself sat in front of someone else's computer and need to make a Skype call.
Skype is also available as a plugin for the Outlook.com portal, so you can check your email and make video calls at the same time. This works a bit more like Hangouts does in Gmail accounts, keeping all your key communication options together in one place.
Then there are the Skype apps for Android and iOS, which of course may well be many people's main way of experiencing Skype. You won't find any major differences between them, and they both boast a user-friendly, clean interface, together with all the features you would expect to find from a video calling app.
These Skype for Business apps, included with an Office 365 subscription, give you more control over device and account security, and look significantly more professional than the standard Skype apps for Android and iOS you might be familiar with for personal use.
They share the same approachable interface, choice of calling (and texting) modes, and file sharing options. Smaller businesses of just a handful of people can simply stick to the original Skype apps, of course, but whichever choice you opt for, you should be able to keep up with calls and contacts from any device without any problems.
Skype for Office 365: pricing and verdict
Skype is available as part of an Office 365 Business subscription – which is £7.90 per user per month (plus VAT) with an annual plan, or £9.50 per user per month (plus VAT) with a monthly plan. In the US, those prices are $8.25 or $10. A free 30-day trial is available if you want to give it a test run first.
Skype can be used to make calls to landlines and mobile numbers as well, for a fee, and larger organizations can opt to base their whole calling system around Skype, if they find the features appealing enough.
There's lots to like about Skype as part of Office 365 or Office 2019, and it's significantly more useful to companies large and small than you might expect if you've only used the consumer version of the software. When used together with Microsoft Teams, both internal and external communications are well taken care of.
- We've also highlighted the best Microsoft Office alternatives