For those who're not familiar with it, Skype offers free computer-to-computer telephony, online chat, and file transfer, among its benefits. It also allows, via SkypeOut, for calls from computer to telephone *anywhere in the world* for the cost of a local call (the destination's local rate, not ours - so it does work out pretty cheap!)
Immediately those of us accustomed to working in a climate of financial constraint begin to see the attractiveness of Skype, and begin to understand why it has such a large installed base at UCT. Where one's phone account is limited to R30 per month - beyond which one becomes personally liable - the ability to phone colleagues in HE insitutions overseas with whom one is collaborating on a project, or whom one is trying to persuade to externally examine a thesis, or whom one wishes to visit during one's sabbatical, or whatever else, for _free_ becomes more attractive than even the Daily Vice page 3 girl.
Synchronous chat alongside voice - particularly during those multiparty conversations that can get a little confusing - is a useful tool, but more useful is the file transfer tool. Given the limits on the file size one can send, and receive, with email, and given that UCT's FTP server last worked when the dinosaurs grazed on the rugby field, many of us have taken to using file splitters to break large files into small chunks which we then spend all morning sending, hoping they all arrive so that they can be reassembled into what they once were. It's not infallible, and it's massively time-consuming. The alternative is to use one of those "free" FTP sites which raises its revenue through the online porn industry. All over the planet, academics at prestigeous HE institutions are shaking their heads sadly as yet another UCT colleague asks them to download the file they're after from one of these dodgy sites, complete with the kind of ads that might make even Paris Hilton blush. It does wonders for our reputation, really. Little wonder that we preferred the Skype file transfer tool while we had it.
Skype has been blocked. The word from the Helpdesk is that is should never have worked - although the large user base attests to its very successful use until recently. It's a pity, really, because the impact on the academic project will be sorely felt.