Skype, for those who are yet to be won over by its genius, is a free application that lets you make phone calls over the internet (to other Skype users) for nothing. Install it on your PC and, as long as the person at the other end does the same, you can click their username to call them and chat till the cows come home without racking up a penny on your phone bill.

These days Skype runs on just about every device, including smartphones, tablets, dedicated Wi-Fi handsets and even TVs.

It’s not hard to see why Skype has been gaining in popularity for years, and these days it’s so much more than just a free phone-calling service: it’s now a fully-fledged replacement for your landline, complete with calls to and from landline and mobile numbers, subscription and pay-as-you-go calling plans.

If you have a webcam, or camera in your mobile device, you allow the other person to see you and the software also lets you send instant messages too.

Skype’s expansion into business use brings more advanced requirements into play. If you work from home, or if you’re in a line of business where you need to keep a recording of a conversation for reference or for legal reasons, it’s now amazingly easy to do with just a few pieces of equipment and software.

To make and receive calls through your computer, you’ll need a microphone to speak into and some means of hearing the response, whether that’s a set of speakers or a pair of headphones (or a combined headset with earphones and microphone).

Just about every modern laptop has an integrated microphone and speakers, and also a webcam if you’re brave enough to try video calling. PC owners – and laptop users who want better quality audio – are best off spending around £15 to £20 on a decent USB headset with microphone, such as the popular Microsoft LifeChat LX-3000.

Alternatively, if you want to replicate the traditional phone experience as closely as possible you can buy USB Skype handsets from as little as £10, complete with flexible cords and familiar annoying ringtones. Considering part of the joy of Skype calling is that we can ditch the clunky handset and keep our hands free, this does seem a slightly backwards step – but each to his own.

Everything else in this guide can be achieved for nothing: you don’t need any Skype credit to start making calls, and you can safely ignore the nagging popups about registering for Callnote premium, which adds video and chat recording.

How to set up and use the CallNote app for Skype

STEP 1: Skype alone has no call recording facility (yet), so you’ll need to download one. Luckily, it has its own app store (what doesn’t these days?), full of add-on tools to make it even more useful. You access it by clicking the Tools menu at the top of the window, then clicking Apps | Get Apps…

Skype - Use CallNote 1

STEP 2: In the app store that pops up in a new window, type “Callnote” into the search bar, and click Get It Now by the standard version to go to the download page. Don’t worry about the low user rating: many of the complaints are about an error from the Mac version that was fixed last year.

Skype - Use CallNote 2

STEP 3: Once it’s downloaded, run the Callnote installer and then link Callnote to Skype. This is simple: just open both applications, and after a few moments a message should appear at the top of Skype to say Callnote would like access. Click Allow Access. Ignore messages about registering Callnote Premium – you don’t need it.

Skype - Use CallNote 3

STEP 4: The main screen of Skype has a test call feature. It’s best to start recording in Callnote before you start the call, although it will work at any time. In Callnote, go to the Call Recording tab, click Record, then start your call in Skype. You can also set Callnote to automatically record all calls, and to notify participants about the recording.

Skype - Use CallNote 4

STEP 5: Recordings are stored in your Documents folder and displayed in Callnote’s Library tab, ordered by date and time. You’ll see the recipient and duration of the call, and you can play back recordings and edit their stored text information. If you upgrade to Callnote Premium this screen will also include video calls and Skype chats.

Skype - Use CallNote 5

STEP 6: One neat feature of Callnote is the ability to send recordings to Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook and YouTube. Click the Account tab and link whichever social media accounts you use, then simply use the quick Forward icons in the Library screen. You can also set up Callnote to send recordings automatically, for safekeeping.

Skype - Use CallNote 6

Next page: other useful Skype apps to download

Useful Skype apps

Everything seems to have its own app store these days, and Skype is no exception. Of course, there are limits to the kind of things you can realistically do with an internet phone service, so it’s not exactly overflowing with innovative apps, but there are some useful tools to be had if you’re a regular Skype user.

For conference calls, IDroo might prove handy. It’s an interactive whiteboard for multiple users to brainstorm and collaborate on ideas visually during a conversation. It lets you insert complex mathematical equations, and it works with Wacom graphics tablets too, so you can scribble away with a stylus for maximum convenience.

Clownfish for Skype is a good one for enhancing international text conversations. It aims to read what you type in English and translate it into one of 44 other languages for the recipient. It’s only as accurate as the current state of translation software, so don’t expect a perfect bilingual conversation, but it supports text-to-speech and spellchecking in all of those languages, and it’s useful for getting your point across with minimal frustration.

Skype apps

And finally, music lovers will surely appreciate ON AIR, which broadcasts information related to the track you’re currently listening to on your Skype online status for everyone to see. It can pull in track info from a whole host of popular media players, including iTunes, Spotify, Winamp and Windows Media Player.