Amazingly, everyone in my family now uses Macintoshes. Doing video chats with them is obviously simple - just fire up iChat and off we go. In general, I only video chat with my family.

One of my Chinese teachers, however, had the idea that we should try video chatting in Chinese to help me get some practice.

(For the curious, I am having trouble understanding Chinese. I can hear the sounds, I know I know the sounds, but they are not forming any meaning in my brain. With single words (with context) I am ok. I also have problems speaking full sentences - I can read and write pretty well, but that is only because I can rearrange word orders and take time to form what I want to say - something you can’t do when speaking)

He, as you might have guessed, uses Windows. Getting this to work (for free) was a long process with a lot of failures. The executive summary for the exercise is: Just use Skype.

Skype’s web site is a bit confusing, but you only have to pay if you call a physical phone. If you chat, voice chat, or video chat online it’s free.

Here were our attempts and the outcomes:

MSN

He was already using MSN. To keep things simple I tried to find an MSN client for Mac that would do video chat (or at a minimum voice chat). Don’t bother with this - it is folly.

Google Talk

I forgot that google talk doesn’t do video, but we couldn’t even get voice going from (Windows + Google Talk) -> (Mac + iChat).

Yahoo

This one was cruel. You can get video to work between (Windows + Yahoo client) -> (Mac + Yahoo client), but no audio. Who would use that? Cruel.

AIM

I found some web sites that say this will work, but we could not get it to work. (Windows XP + AIM client (no firewall)) -> (Mac 10.5.1 + iChat (no firewall)). We couldn’t get voice or video. In fact, iChat wouldn’t even acknowledge he had audio or video capabilities. I was disappointed with this one (and Google Talk) as it would’ve kept all my video chatting to iChat.

Skype

Finally we both downloaded Skype, and it just worked. We installed the application, created accounts, initiated video chats, and were chatting within minutes. (It is a well behaved Mac application to boot).

One last cool thing about Skype is it says it works on Linux too. I don’t have a Linux box with a camera so I can’t try it, but I am impressed they support Linux. If I had money, I’d invest a bit in Skype.