Microsoft makes phone calls to Ukraine free on Skype

Despite the fact that most users have moved onto Microsoft Teams, the software giant has released a new preview version of Skype which is now available to download for Skype Insiders.

Skype Insider build 8.82 includes a number of bug fixes and stability improvements as well as support for Google Play Store in-app billing to purchase credit, subscriptions and Skype numbers.

In addition to these performance improvements, the latest version of Microsoft's video conferencing software and VoIP service will also allow users to make free phone calls to Ukraine on all platforms. This means that those with friends and relatives in Ukraine will be able to call them without having to purchase credits though Skype users in Ukraine will also be able to make free calls to users in other countries.

In a forum post, Microsoft explained that it has added a list of non-profit organizations to the Skype Home Page so that people around the world can donate to help support the Ukrainian people.

Translated Conversations and Support Ukraine emoticons

Microsoft didn't stop at free phone calls to/from Ukraine though as the company has also added support for more languages in Translated Conversations on all platforms. With this feature, Skye users will be able to translate their phone calls to and from the Ukrainian language so that they can more easily communicate with people in the country. 

At the same time, Microsoft has added “Support Ukraine” emoticons on all platforms and Skype users will now be able to use “Ukraine Heart”, “Ukraine Handshake” and “Ukraine Pray” in their chats.

In order to test out all of these new features and show your support for Ukraine, you'll need to be a Skype Insider first but you can become one by signing up here.

Throughout Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Microsoft has been working behind the scenes to support the Ukrainian government by fending off cyberattacks and the company recently suspended all new sales of both its products and services in Russia.

Via ONMSFT

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Microsoft makes phone calls to Ukraine free on Skype

Despite the fact that most users have moved onto Microsoft Teams, the software giant has released a new preview version of Skype which is now available to download for Skype Insiders.

Skype Insider build 8.82 includes a number of bug fixes and stability improvements as well as support for Google Play Store in-app billing to purchase credit, subscriptions and Skype numbers.

In addition to these performance improvements, the latest version of Microsoft's video conferencing software and VoIP service will also allow users to make free phone calls to Ukraine on all platforms. This means that those with friends and relatives in Ukraine will be able to call them without having to purchase credits though Skype users in Ukraine will also be able to make free calls to users in other countries.

In a forum post, Microsoft explained that it has added a list of non-profit organizations to the Skype Home Page so that people around the world can donate to help support the Ukrainian people.

Translated Conversations and Support Ukraine emoticons

Microsoft didn't stop at free phone calls to/from Ukraine though as the company has also added support for more languages in Translated Conversations on all platforms. With this feature, Skye users will be able to translate their phone calls to and from the Ukrainian language so that they can more easily communicate with people in the country. 

At the same time, Microsoft has added “Support Ukraine” emoticons on all platforms and Skype users will now be able to use “Ukraine Heart”, “Ukraine Handshake” and “Ukraine Pray” in their chats.

In order to test out all of these new features and show your support for Ukraine, you'll need to be a Skype Insider first but you can become one by signing up here.

Throughout Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Microsoft has been working behind the scenes to support the Ukrainian government by fending off cyberattacks and the company recently suspended all new sales of both its products and services in Russia.

Via ONMSFT

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Google Meet wants to try and fix patchy video calls for good

Identifying the issues behind a sketchy or badly-connecting Google Meet video call could soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new update.

The video conferencing platform has introduced a new service that will let admins monitor call quality and single out any issues or bandwidth bottlenecks.

The new Meet quality tool will even allow admins to monitor connections over time, spotting if there are any specific times when bandwidth may be in high demand.

Google Meet bandwidth

In a blog post announcing the new tool, Google notes that the service will monitor both inbound and outbound bandwidth, covering both used and available.

“Surfacing this information helps admins visualize participants bandwidth compared to the quality of a call, making it easier for them to determine where a bandwidth bottleneck could be causing low quality,” the company noted.

Google added that knowing which bitrates are available or being used for specific endpoints can be crucial when performing troubleshooting or working to improve call quality in your domain. However such data was previously only available as an average across entire calls, which can make it difficult to narrow down problems during specific points in time. 

“We hope by surfacing this detailed information, Admins can easily troubleshoot or improve call quality for their users,” it said.

The tool is available by default to all Google Workspace customers now, as well as legacy G Suite Basic and Business customers.

The news is the latest in a series of updates as Google looks to ensure its video calling tool stays up to speed with competitors such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

Some of its most recent upgrades include allowing up to 500 participants to join a video call at the same time to make it easier to connect and collaborate with colleagues, clients and customers.

Users can also enable live streaming in Google Meet which will allow up to 100,000 viewers to watch at once.

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Your WhatsApp voice calls are getting a needed overhaul for iOS and Android

WhatsApp is testing a new look for being in a call, both on iOS and Android, which shows who's speaking in a group call with waveforms, alongside a more modern design.

The company has been working on improvements across the app for the last year, with multi-device support, a desktop app for Windows 11, and more to better rival other messaging apps.

But calling in WhatsApp has been relegated to the standard user interface of what iOS and Android offer to third-party apps with call features.

However, version 22.5.0.70, currently available to beta testers, the new look for calling in the app is going to benefit group calls more than those that are one-to-one.


Analysis: Making your voice calls look much better

WhatsApp audio wave form call

(Image credit: WABetaInfo)

For years, the interface when you're in a call on iOS and Android has barely seen any improvement since their first versions. While iOS 14 brought a compact view for when you would be in a call, the full-screen view has been relatively unchanged.

More users are preferring to choose to call over other apps, from WhatsApp to Skype, especially with group calls, which is why an update to the interface for WhatsApp is welcome.

Here, you've got an elegant design that shows who's speaking thanks to the audio waveforms for when someone speaks, alongside three options that's available to you at all times if you want to go on mute, end the call, or go on loudspeaker.

It's a modern design that only goes to show how much of an update the call screen in iOS and Android needs, especially for group calls.

Via WABetaInfo

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Microsoft Teams update introduces a useful new way to control your calls

Dealing with dodgy audio levels on a Microsoft Teams call could soon be a thing of the past following a new update to the platform.

The company has revealed that users of its video conferencing service will soon be able to control aspects of calls using a Bluetooth device.

The change means users will soon be able to use a Bluetooth headset or speakerphone to answer or end a Microsoft Teams call, giving users much more flexibility, such as answering a call on the move, or at their desk.

Microsoft Teams Bluetooth

The news will allow Microsoft Teams users to use the buttons on a connected Bluetooth device to control their call, largely by answering, ending, or putting the call on hold.

Thes devices won't even require a USB dongle when connected to a Windows PC running Teams desktop client, and Microsoft says that for many headsets and speakerphones, this will work without requiring any user action to enable other than pairing the device with the PC.

It's likely that only certain devices will be able to use the feature to begin with, and Microsoft notes that users should stay tuned to its certification page for additional information about devices tested to meet all certification criteria with native Bluetooth connections soon.

The official Microsoft 365 roadmap notes that the feature is currently still in development, but is set to start rolling out to users in March 2022. When live, the feature will be available to all Microsoft Teams desktop users only, with no news of a mobile launch just yet.

The update could be good news for companies looking to upgrade their online collaboration hardware, and follows the recent launch of a new initiative designed to attract even more customers to Teams.

Microsoft recently announced a new device trade-in scheme whereby businesses can claim cash back on old video conferencing hardware and desk phones when they make the switch to Microsoft Teams. The scheme will be facilitated by a partnership with Network-Value, a company that specializes in global device trade-in and responsible equipment disposal.

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Messenger calls and chats are now fully encrypted – if you want them to be

Meta-owned Messenger has announced the launch of end-to-end (E2E) encryption across its platform, meaning chats and calls should be safe from snooping.

Users can now choose whether to have their messages, group chats and calls fully encrypted when logged into the service. One option is to use vanish mode, which can be activated by swiping up on an existing chat to activate a new option where messages automatically disappear when the chat window is closed.

There's also the Secret Conversations feature, first introduced back in 2016, which also offers fully-secured chats and can be toggled on by swiping on the lock icon when starting a new chat.

E2E encryption on Messenger

The launch is a slight surprise, given that Meta said in November 2021 that it would delay the roll out of E2E encryption by default on Messenger and Instagram until 2023 as it examined the effect such a move would have on users.

“We know that people expect their messaging apps to be secure, private and provide them a space to be expressive,” Timothy Buck, Product Manager, Messenger wrote in a company blog post.

“Building secure and fun interactive features takes time and requires our engineers to innovate and solve technical challenges, so this is part of a series of product updates as we keep improving our services. With cybercrime and hacking on the rise, it’s more important than ever to find great ways to connect with friends and family through private and secure communications.”

“We know the importance of safety and privacy when it comes to communicating with the people who matter most to you. End-to-end encryption protects you and your data from hackers, criminals and other prying eyes.”

The news comes shortly after the UK government hired a top ad agency to help it launch a campaign against Meta's plans to introduce E2E for Messenger. The Home Office apparently believes the move will allegedly help criminals, and has pointed to Meta's WhatsApp platform, which also features E2E encryption as an example of unregulated technology leading to crime.

Messenger's rivals have no such qualms, with many having already introduced E2E encryption already. Microsoft Teams announced its E2EE launch in December 2021, with Android Messages adding the facility back in June 2021.

  • If you are concerned about privacy, consider using one of the best VPN services

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Amazon TVs will now do Zoom calls – but you’ll need one crucial piece of kit

Video calls are coming to your living room thanks to a new partnership between Amazon and Zoom.

The video conferencing giant has revealed that its platform will now be available on Amazon Fire TV sets just in time for family calls over Christmas.

The Fire TV Omni Series will let users start and join Zoom meetings, with users in the US and Canada able to enjoy the service from today.

Webcams essential

Amazon revealed its first own-branded Fire TV sets in September 2021, looking to target customers looking for more affordable hardware.

Zoom was mentioned as one of the initial apps set to be bundled with the devices, however it has been missing until now – marking the first time the company has released an app for a smart TV.

However, as there is no camera built in to the TVs themselves – you'll need to get a webcam to actually be able to carry out any Zoom calls.

Luckily, Amazon has some ideas on what webcams you can use – namely, any of the Logitech C920, C922x or C310 (although it does say any webcam offering “720p-1080p” should be compatible).

Once you're all set up, the Zoom app can be downloaded from the Fire TV Appstore, and accessed with your usual logins.

If you've got your microphone turned on, you can use Alexa to join a zoom meeting with the command “Alexa, join my zoom meeting.”

Amazon notes that the Zoom app will only use audio from your TV speakers,  meaning that users won't be able to pair with a soundbar or speakers just yet.

The news comes shortly after Zoom doubled down on its pledge to stick around even after the pandemic has ended. The company said it can play an important role in the post-pandemic world, mainly through helping facilitate and encourage hybrid working as employees look to split their time between the office and a more comfortable home environment.

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Your Microsoft Teams calls are finally getting this essential security boost

Protecting your Microsoft Teams calls and messages will soon be easier than ever thanks to a new update coming to the service.

After months of planning, Microsoft has revealed that end-to-end encryption (E2EE) is finally set to launch for its video conferencing software soon.

This should make it harder for outside forces such as hackers or fraudsters to gain access to Microsoft Teams and the chats within, hopefully keeping private or valuable information being discussed safe.

Teams security

According to an entry in the Microsoft 365 roadmap, full E2EE will be coming to Teams calling by March 2022.

“End-to-end encryption is the encryption of information at its origin and decryption at its intended destination without the ability for intermediate nodes to decrypt,” the company noted. 

“End-to-end encryption would be an optional mode of real-time media collaboration where one-to-one Teams calls between two parties would be end-to-end encrypted.”

The update is classified as general availability, meaning it should be on offer to all Microsoft Teams users across desktop and mobile – including both Android and iOS.

Microsoft revealed back in October 2021 that it was trialling E2EE in Teams as it looks to boost security for its video call platform.

Rival Zoom was forced to up its security protections after several high-profile “Zoom-bombing” incidents saw outside parties able to gatecrash what should have been private calls.

The update will mean that Teams users will soon see an encryption indicator in the upper left corner of the software which shows that their calls are encrypted. Microsoft Teams will also display a security code for the call which both parties can verify on their respective ends.

However it seems that some Microsoft Teams features, recording, live caption and transcription, Call park, Call Merge, Call Companion, Call transfer and the ability to add a participant to make a one-to-one call a group call won't be available when E2EE is enabled.

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Turns out a lot of us are really bad at behaving on Zoom calls

After another bumper year for video calls across the world, Zoom has released a series of somewhat surprising facts about some of the oddest facts it has gathered about users in 2021.

The video conferencing platform carried out a global survey and combined the results with its own internal insights to show how we really used Zoom – with some particularly odd findings.

This includes over half (53%) of Zoom users saying it was OK to eat during meetings, 42% saying they have made a call from their beds, and over a quarter (26%) saying they almost never showered before going on a call.

Zoom in 2021

Covering the period of November 15 2020 to November 15 2021, the company's survey discovered that Wednesday was the most popular day of the week for Zoom calls, followed by Tuesday and Thursday.

The average length of a Zoom call was a whopping 54 minutes, with the average meeting size found to be 10 participants.

Zoom, which was used in nearly 200 countries and territories around the world, also found that January 21 2021 was the busiest day of the year for virtual meetings, with February 25 the most popular day for webinars.

Elsewhere, nearly three-quarters (71%) of Zoom users have had to say the phrase “you're on mute” at some point in the last 12 months, with 57% needing to ask if everyone on a call could see their screen.

75% of users said they waved goodbye at the end of their meetings, with outdoor landscapes (26%) proving slightly more popular than blurred backgrounds (25%) or company logos (20%).

Just under half (43%) confessed to only cleaning the part of the room visible on camera, with the same number (43%) of parents having a child show up during a meeting, and 36% saying they have had a pet show up during a meeting.

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This Gmail update just made it harder than ever to avoid video calls

Avoiding video conferencing meetings could soon be trickier than ever now that Google has made it much simpler to join a video or audio call via Gmail.

The company has announced that users can now start or join meetings and audio calls from 1:1 chats in Google Chat in Gmail on Android and iOS.

“As some teams begin to return to office, while others remain distributed, we hope this makes it easier to connect with your colleagues in the hybrid work world,” Google wrote in a blog post announcing the new addition. “This feature will allow you to seamlessly switch between chat to a video or audio call when needed, helping you collaborate and move your work forward.”

Google Chat calls

Going forward, Gmail users will now see a phone and video icon in the top right corner of a 1:1 Google chat window that, when clicked, will start a direct call with the contact.

In order to join a call, you just need to select the phone or video chip within the 1:1 chat window, and while on a call, you’ll see a banner of the person you’re on a call with, the call duration and a Meet icon in the chat roster.

Missed calls will be indicated with a red phone or video icon within the conversation and the chat roster.

Google Workspace video call

(Image credit: Google)

The feature is hosted as part of Gmail, so if you select to join a call from the Google chat app, you'll be redirected to the Gmail app. If you don't have the Gmail app installed on your device, you’ll be prompted to download it via Google Play store or the App Store

The feature, which will be rolled out to all Google Workspace customers, as well as G Suite Basic and Business customers by default, is currently only available for 1:1 meetings so far. This means there's no group calls for the moment, but given the ongoing popularity of video calls, this can't be too far away.

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