Skype for Web bypasses apps for browser ease

Skype has launched a web version of its voice and video calling platform, bypassing the need to install a local app, and expected to be particularly popular with travelers and those borrowing access to a computer. Skype for Web runs in Internet Explorer, Chrome on Windows, Firefox, and Safari, and though initially it will require a browser plugin be installed so as to function properly, the company's goal is to bypass any installation whatsoever once it gets out of beta. Still, that's not the only glitches still to be ironed out.

In fact, the Skype for Web beta has a couple of known issues out of the gate, the company says. On a Mac, the biggest drawback is battery consumption, with Skype admitting that there's an issue there on MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops.

Meanwhile, outgoing Skype video calls "can take longer than normal to ring," Skype says.

Still, if the rough edges can be polished away, it could be a useful shift forward for the service. By using WebRTC, a browser-based audio and video standard which would require no local software, Skype can effectively minimize the process from signing up to starting a call to simply registering an account.

Importantly, WebRTC is increasingly being adopted by browser makers, and will eventually mean that web-centric platforms like Chromebooks will now be able to use Skype. Previously, since they couldn't install a local app, they were locked out of the ecosystem.

Initially though, Windows users will be able to access it on Internet Explorer 10 and above, along with the latest Chrome and Firefox versions. Mac users will have to use Safari 6 or above.

In addition to video and audio calls, there's also Skype's instant messaging.

Update: Microsoft tells us that, while Chromebooks still won't be able to use voice and video calling until full WebRTC support is finalized, the Chrome OS machines will be able to log in and use instant messaging.

Not everyone will get Skype for Web access immediately, with the VoIP company planning to roll it out progressively over the coming months. A "small number" of existing users and new sign-ups will get the feature first.