Apps and Applications
Let's Talk: A Guide to GW Connect, a Free Skype Application for Windows Users from GW Micro
Skype is a program that allows users to call each other for free over the Internet. If you've ever tried Skype and found it to be difficult to use or intimidating, then GW Connect, the new free Skype application from GW Micro, may be for you. GW Connect, initially released as GW Skype but renamed at Skype's request, is compatible with Window-Eyes version 7.0 or later, as well as with recent versions of any other screen reading program.
With GW Connect, you can call, leave a voicemail message for, chat with, and send files to other Skype users for free. If you want to call someone who is not a Skype user, you can do so for a fee (charged by Skype). Although some screen reader manufacturers, including GW Micro, have made applications or scripts for Skype in the past, there have been issues with the apps keeping up-to-date with new changes to Skype. GW Micro is committed to insuring that GW Connect works with future versions of Skype. Stephen Clower, the developer of the GW Connect, said the application has been very popular so far and that by late January GW Micro had seen "about 6,500 downloads of GW Connect from our website, but that's only from us. There's no way to tell who's been passing the installer around."
At present, Skype has not given permission to GW Connect to facilitate video calls. Clower explained: "The part of GW Connect that does all the talking to the Skype service doesn't have that video support in it right now, but once it's added we can begin working with it." He anticipates being able to offer this functionality in the near future.
GW Connect requires a minimum of Windows XP and Internet Explorer 8 with Service Pack 3. For this review I used Windows XP, Internet Explorer 8.0.60, and Window-Eyes 22.214.171.124. It's not necessary to already have Skype on your computer.
Window-Eyes users running version 7.5 or later can use the application's hot key Windows + G. When the applications list loads, use the find command and enter GW Connect in the search box. Once the application is located, tab to the "Install" button. For users of other screen readers or users of earlier versions of Window-Eyes, go to the GW Connect page and activate the "Download Now" link. Either installation method will launch a set-up dialog box that will guide you through the installation process.
When GW Connect opens you'll find edit boxes for a user name and password for existing Skype accounts. This information can be entered without taking Window-Eyes out of browse mode or any other screen reader's keys for filling out forms. Below the log-in form is a button to sign up for Skype. Activating this button brings the user to the Skype sign-up page. All form controls on the page speak and there is a clear audio CAPTCHA. During the sign-up process you will be asked to create a user name. This name cannot have any spaces.
When GW Connect loads it will play a sound and say the user is online. If the user has the GW Connect window open but is working in another program, the application will still give sound alerts for all events including phone calls and chat messages. If you received any messages while GW Connect is closed, alerts will sound when you launch the app.
Using GW Connect
The GW Connect menus can be accessed through standard navigation keys. By default, as a menu item is read its hot key will be spoken. In the Skype menu is an options dialog that allows for some customization of the application. There is a very useful context menu that is activated by putting the cursor on a contact's name and typing Shift + F10 or routing the mouse pointer to the name and doing a right click. This menu brings up many options including Call, Chat, Send File, and View Profile.
Each Skype user has a profile. The only required profile information is the user name. There are other fields for full name, e-mail address, phone numbers, gender, and more. It's a good idea to check your profile to review the information you provided when you signed up for your Skype account. This option can be accessed through the GW Connect Skype menu. Choose the Edit Profile option to review and edit. As you search for contacts or receive contact authorization requests, you can access a user's profile either through the context menu or by tabbing to it if you're in a dialog box.
In order to call, chat, or send files to someone via Skype, he or she needs to be added to your contacts. Typing Control + F brings up a Search dialog with three options: Skype user name, full name, and e-mail address. At least one field must be filled in before you hit Enter or tab to the "Search" button to perform the search. If you are seeking someone with a common name, it's a good idea to fill in at least two fields so you won't have to weed through as many results. Once you find the person you'd like to contact, tab to the "Add" button and activate it. A dialog box will appear for writing a personal message that will appear with your authorization request. Next, activate the "OK" button. If the contact approves, his or her name will be added to your contact list. When someone sends a request to add you to their Skype contacts, a window will open and GW Connect will speak the person's name and any personal message. Several options including Accept, Deny, and View Profile are presented for your selection.
Making and Receiving Calls
In order to call someone, you need to have a microphone plugged into your computer's microphone port. Once you've crated your Skype account, the first time GW Connect loads, you will already have one entry in your contacts list: Echo/Sound Test Service. After reading the contact name, GWConnect will say "status online." The Echo/Sound Test Service checks whether your microphone is set-up correctly. To use it with the cursor on the contact name, press the call hot key, Control + L. Alternatively, you can press Shift + F10 and select Call from the context menu. Once the call goes through, you'll be prompted to record a message. Just speak into your microphone. If the message is played back then your settings are correct. To disconnect the call use the hot key Control + H.
An incoming call sounds like a regular phone ringing. GW Connect will speak the caller's name. To answer the call, use the hot key Alt +Page Up. To reject the call, use Alt + Page Down. These are global hot keys, so they will work no matter what you are doing on your computer as long as the application is running. If you are in GW Connect, options to Accept or Reject the call are presented. In the current version of the app, it's not possible to put one call on hold to answer another.
To add someone to an ongoing call, simply call the third party while you're still on the line with the original caller. If a call comes in while you're speaking with someone and you'd like the new caller to be added to the conversation, hit Alt + Page Up. If you don't want to add the call, select the Reject option. Pressing Alt + Page Down disconnects all active calls.
Chatting with someone through Skype is similar to texting: you send text-based messages to each other in real time. If someone sends you a chat message, a window will open and the message will be read. Below the message is a field for entering your response along with a Send button. You do not need any keystrokes for filling out the form, just type. In the same chat dialog box are other options including Send a File or Call. To initiate a chat, either use the context menu or hit Enter on the contact's name. A chat window will open and your cursor will be placed in an edit box where you can write your message. To quickly review a chat conversation with someone, open the chat window and then use keys F1 through F10 to read the last ten messages in descending order.
In order to use the GW Connect voicemail feature, the recipient must have voicemail enabled on their Skype account. Voicemail will pick up when your contact doesn't answer. When finished recording your message, hang up. You can send a voicemail without calling through the context menu or by pressing Control + V. If the contact does not have voicemail enabled on his or her account, a message will inform you of this fact. You can activate voicemail on your account on the Skype homepage.
Sending a file is done similarly to how an e-mail attachment is created. Select the recipient and either choose Send File in the contact menu or use the context menu and go to File. Once in the dialog box, select the file as you would to indicate an e-mail attachment. When someone sends you a file, a dialog box will open with the file name and options to Accept or Deny the transfer and whether to open the file.
Setting Status and Mood
When the GW Connect window is open your contacts will be able to see your name, status, and mood. By default, your status will say "online" when you have GW Connect open. You can change this through the Status menu. If your window is open, but you do not want your contacts to see your status, choose Invisible from the status menu.
Mood is the third column in each contact listing. It's similar to status messages on messenger sites such as AIM or MSN. To display your mood, go into the Skype menu and select Set Mood Text.
The manual, which can be accessed through the Help menu or by F1 (except when in a chat window), is very clear and easy to follow. Tech support is available at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (260) 489-3671. The tech support specialists are very knowledgeable and helpful.
The Bottom Line
GW Connect is a very user-friendly application and the price is right. Many functions in this application can be accessed in more than one way (e.g., choosing Call from the context menu, selecting Call from the Contact menu, or by typing Control + l), which makes navigation convenient and fast. I highly recommend this app as an accessible and easier-to-use way to take advantage of the many great features of Skype.
Product: GW Connect
Manufacturer: GW Micro
Release Date: December 2011
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