Stories Swirling About Skype's Source
The rumor mill is alive and well in the Open Source world, as demonstrated by wildly spreading speculation about the possibility of an Open Source Linux client from the popular Skype VOIP service.
The commotion began over the weekend with a blog post from a Mandriva user reporting that Skype Technical Support had indicated, then confirmed, that an Open Source Skype client for Linux is in the works. [The post in question is a French-language source, our information regarding it is taken from an English-language summary.]
The news quickly spread, and ultimately resulted in a blog post from Skype developer Stanislav Karchebny (known as "Berkus"), confirming that an Open Source client for Linux is indeed in development. Karchebny declined to comment on the details, but did state that the client "will be a part of larger offering." He spoke of adoption "in the "multicultural" land of Linux distributions" and the promise of rapid advancements — hallmarks of Open Source development. He promised that updates will be forthcoming — Skype's idea of regular updates and the Linux community's expectations, however, do not necessarily sync up.
Some have questioned why the move should be of particular import, given the variety of Linux-compatible VOIP options already available. The most obvious is, fittingly enough, the news itself: Skype will have an Open Source client. Regardless of the market, number of users, or general usefulness, any time the makers of a proprietary product choose to embrace Open Source, that in itself is an important event. Adding allies to our community is as important as adding products to our systems.
Beyond the victory itself, there is the matter of access. There are a number of high quality open VOIP clients to choose from, most of which can communicate with one another out of the box, but only Skype can communicate with Skype. It may be lagging behind in Linux users, but Skype has heavy adoption from users of the market-leading operating system — users on the other side of the wall, so to speak. It's fine to point out the existence of other options — particularly when they are superior, as Open Source software often is — but when the users you're trying to reach aren't reachable, it doesn't do a lot of good. It's rather like being told that you can always mail domestically when all your contacts are abroad.
The move, if it materializes, will likely be of particular interest to business users. More and more businesses, particularly small businesses, are adopting Skype as a way to keep communication costs low — we know from experience. Having an Open Source client that can spread to all Linux distributions will open the door not just for those already using Linux in business, but will strike down one more barrier for those looking to leave their current operating system for Linux. That, like the move in itself, is nothing to be sneezed at.
Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.
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