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.

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Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.

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Mesh Potato

Roland's picture

Just got LJ December issue, I see an article on the "Mesh Potato", an 802.11b/g router with a phone jack, designed for low-cost mesh telephony. Does this mean we are about to see a revolution in low-cost telephony? Landlines may go the way of the buggy-whip. Maybe the people at Skype see some handwriting on the wall. This thing is designed for the 3rd world, which doesn't have many landlines, mostly cellphones. But if a call is ever to leave the local mesh, it needs some kind of backhaul. Those are cheap and plentiful now, and getting more so. This is getting really interesting! Under $100 to start. VillageTelco.org

My toughts

Edu's picture

Despite how much they are going to "open".
I think that the central point here, is well treated in the article and it will be a positive step for Linux world, user, philosophy, to get some piece of software from Skype developed for Linux. If, unfortunately, less than we liked. We need to consider that it can drive to break barriers and allow more and more people/companies to migrate to Linux.

Regards

Uhhh... what?

RyanRix's picture

Justin,

You are missing many important points in your article, some of which completely change the landscape of this announcement and make your article sound more like propaganda.

First off, you say that Skype is opensourcing their client. No; they are not. This is the biggest mistake I've seen people make. Skype is open source a GUI front end to a library that will still be proprietary. That library will be the same library that locks in users, the does everything in its efforts not to be sliced open and looked at and in general goes against everything that free software is about; transparency and openness.

Second, you write that "any time the makers of a proprietary product choose to embrace Open Source, that in itself is an important event." I look at what Skype is doing as a cop out. It's common knowledge that their GNU/Linux client is a piece of garbage and has been for a long time. I'm just surprised they actually updated it to support PulseAudio. By open sourcing the GUI, they can basically abandon it under the guise of 'letting the community handle it.' Which sucks.

Third, Berkus and the Skype team in general are completely missing the point of Free Software/Open Source. In fact, Berkus fails to even understand what Free Software is, writing in one comment on [http://share.skype.com/sites/linux/2009/11/skype_open_source.html] "Skype is and has always been free software. Now we will open source the parts we _can_ open source." Which of course, we should be asking why can you only release those parts? Is there pieces of the protocol that you don't want us to know about? Back doors? Kill switches? Other fun stuff? You guys sure do go through a lot of effort to market to those same hackers and tinkerers that you are trying to market to.

I look at this as nothing more than cheap marketing for Skype. QED.

Ryan Rix

"Which of course, we should

Anonymous's picture

"Which of course, we should be asking why can you only release those parts? Is there pieces of the protocol that you don't want us to know about?"

Sure, of course they have some stuff they don't want us to see, but mostly, the code for the core DOES NOT BELONG TO THEM, keep reading on the litigation between eBay and the original owners of Skype.

"By open sourcing the GUI, they can basically abandon it under the guise of 'letting the community handle it.' Which sucks."

Sure, IF it happens, it's bad, but still, if you have a company that must use Skype (cause customers don't always give you the choice), would you rather have the option of paying some hacker to fix that sound (or performance, or usability) problem or just be forced to go to Windows?

Opening the source of the client, while not a full solution, will be useful...

"You guys sure do go through

RyanRix's picture

"You guys sure do go through a lot of effort to market to those same hackers and tinkerers that you are trying to market to."
This is what happens when we comment at 7am.

You guys sure do go through a lot of effort to market to lock out those same hackers and tinkerers that you are trying to market to.

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