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by Carol Chung 

Imagine being able to make unlimited calls to almost any place in the world without forking over a cent.

Thanks to Skype, the Global Telephony Company, people such as Nancy Pearson can stop dreaming and start dialing.

Once the first-year Ryerson student downloaded the free software from the company’s website — — she was able to call anyone else over Internet who has a microphone and Skype installed on their computer. Think of Skype as an instant messenging program from the future.

Since its launch in 2003 by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis — the founders of KaZaa — Skype has become the fastest growing telecommunications phenomenon in history, and it appears to be spreading in Canada. An estimated 1.1 million Canucks, and counting, are logging on every day.

The program is a godsend for Pearson, a Windsor native, who is living on her own for the first time. She uses Skype to keep in touch with loved ones.

“I was excited to be living on my own when I came here, but I was also kind of nervous,” she says. “Being able to talk to my mom and my friends back home is making the transition (from high school to university) less intimidating for me.”

Skype is an excellent way for students on a budget to stay in touch with family and friends, says company spokesperson Hannah McCree in an email from her European office.

“Many join the Skype community to reduce their calling expense while studying away from home,” McCree says.

Online communication programs such as Skype can help fight the homesickness and unease that often accompany new students, says Pitman residence advisor Ali Kennedy.

“Students sometimes feel uncomfortable,” Kennedy says. “Their family are gone, the friends are different, the city is different…everything changes.

“Even chatting for just five minutes with your best friend back home can make a positive impact…It’s another form of security.”

But Kennedy stops short of recommending Skype for everyone, saying that it could be a deterrent to building on-campus connections for some.

“It’s a good way to keep in contact, but you can’t be sitting in front of the computer all the time and not talking to the people on your floor (in residence).”

Pearson, who often uses Skype for two or three hours every night, insists the software hasn’t deterred her from making new friends.

“I like talking to my old pals, and I like getting out there and meeting new people,” she says. “With Skype, I get the best of both worlds.”

Pearson is so content with Skype that she’ll soon purchase its premium service, SkypeOut, which lets you make calls from your computer over the Internet to anyone using a traditional or mobile phone. The 20 most popular call destinations have one low rate of .02 cents Canadian per minute.

The software works on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and PDAs using Pocket PC. But no matter what the platform, all users are ensured high security and sound quality superior to that of regular telephones.

“Skype has more than 54 million registered users across every country and territory in the world,” McCree says.

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