Skype announced a new release of its Internet telephony software for Macs. Version 5.1 boasts enhanced conference calling capabilities enabling participants in group calls to easily identify active speakers – very handy. iSight Firewire webcam detection problem has been resolved as well, Skype says. Another nice-to-have: It’s finally possible to select recently called numbers stored in the dial pad. Release notes accompanying the download also mention “several minor bug fixes” and “call quality feedback.”

Skype 5 enraged many Mac fans, this author included, with its huge interface. It’s plain ugly, unfriendly and takes up too much valuable screen real estate unnecessarily. Perhaps in a realization of the backlash, Skype today backpedaled with a contest to redesign the application’s chat window, one area heavily criticized for the clutter.

Something about the accompanying statement rubs me the wrong way:

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When we first launched our new Mac app, we were delighted to see so many custom styles emerge from the design community, so we thought we’d make it official. Between now and the 14th April, we’re inviting you to design your own chat style for Skype for Mac. We’ve assembled a team of experts to choose the very best, and if you’re the winner, we’ll include your design in a future version of Skype for Mac so that it can be enjoyed by millions of people around the world (as well as giving you a brand new MacBook Air, an iPad 2 and a year’s subscription to Unlimited World Extra).

Newsflash, Skype: Custom styles are emerging because people hate your redesign, not because they admire it. Now, how about a contest to let the community revamp the entire application rather than just a chat window?

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