Skype might have a hard time keeping itself relevant now that Google has introduced its new video chat service embedded in Google+ called Hangouts. Google+ Hangouts boasts a slick interface, doesn't require additional downloads and best of all it's free ... if you can score an invitation, that is.
Google+ is still in testing mode and, like Gmail in its infancy, you need to be invited in. Google is having a hard time keeping its invitation process open, too; because of "insane demand" Google had to temporarily suspend Google+ invitations.
But once Google+ Hangouts launches to a broader audience, Microsoft-owned Skype will have some serious competition when it comes to video chat.
Google+ Hangouts can hold 10 people in the same video chat room simultaneously. While Skype 5.0 Beta 2 can do the same, video conferencing on Skype requires a Premium membership that ranges from $4.49 to $8.99 per month.
Worse yet, Skype 5.0 Beta 2 is Windows-only at the moment, whereas Google+ Hangouts, like Gmail video chat, is browser-based and doesn't discriminate against any OS or requires an additional download.
Now that Microsoft has acquired Skype and plans on embedding Skype functions into the Office suite, Skype will become even more of a household (and "businesshold") name. But Google+ should get a lot of traction given Google's already pervasive Web presence and the fact that many smaller businesses are ditching Microsoft Office and relying on Google's productivity suite.
Google+ is definitely a work in progress; that's why it's called a project rather than a product. But Hangouts is probably it's most interesting and useful feature -- one that Skype will have to keep tabs on.