Response to the Skype rants on Planet GNOME

I recently read some ranting regarding Skype via Planet GNOME. In the blog post, it is detailed what Skype does wrong — however, those shortcomings do not stop people from using Skype.

Why do people use Skype, despite all of the issues? It’s the combination of a few simple factors.

  • No need to worry about firewalls or other crazy configuration. It just works. Firewalls, today, are a reality. Nearly everyone on the Internet now is behind a firewall. It wasn’t always this way. Software needs to stop pretending that we live in a world where firewalls are the exception.
  • It is free (or cheap) to use. Compared to a traditional telephone network (or even most VOIP), Skype is cheap, and even free if you’re talking Skype to Skype.
  • It works on nearly everyone’s computer. Mac? Windows? Linux? N800? Yeah, it’s there. One person’s Skype install works with any of the other ports, without fuss.
  • People using Skype can talk to others who don’t even use (or have heard of) the software. Of course, this is by way of the standard phone lines. But still — the software does it, and it’s cheap.
  • Skype is a catchy, simple name (and people can easily convert it into a verb, too).

Yes, Skype is proprietary and the UI isn’t great… but it’s good enough for most people, as it gives people what they want (free/cheap communication to their friends and family). The alternatives are either to use a clunky alternative with lots of set-up and jargon (while worrying about things like firewalls, IP addresses, SIP configuration, etc.) or to use something like the phone networks where calls are expensive (charged by the minute on cell phones, or a bundle per month for land lines) which are all being routed through proprietary networks using mainly proprietary hardware and software anyway.

Despite Skype’s shortcomings (and being closed source), you should understand why normal people — the ones who just want to chat to their friends — use it. It’s all about the computer, as a whole, being a tool that people use instead of a person being a tool the computer controls. This applies to all software and all electronics, proprietary or open source. (It’s really the difference between good and bad software when it comes to the experience.)

Build something better, easier, nicer, and more compelling than Skype and make it available to everyone… and people will use it. (It worked for Firefox.) You can even pitch in to help an already existing, very promising project with these goals; I’m sure the developers (and eventually all the people using the software) would love the help.

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14 Responses to “Response to the Skype rants on Planet GNOME”

  1. garrett says:

    glandium: Awesome! Thanks for the tip.

  2. Matt says:

    As a network administrator, Skype’s habit of breaking through firewalls is a disaster. For a home user, Skype is great, but in a corporate environment, the firewall is there for a reason, and Skype should not work. It would also help if the protocol was properly documented so that network administrators everywhere could properly monitor or discourage its use.

  3. Tehk says:

    There are many powerful open alternatives, but alas that will not mean anything. Skype has become the AIM of voice chat now and It seems it will be a long time before it is dead. Also as we have learned in the past – It does not matter if your solution is more attractive* if the majority of people you know are using the old solution. It becomes one big ‘alone’ circle.

    I support ekiga, googletalk/Jabber-Voice**, and all the other open protocol based solution but unless the mass of your friends are FLOSS users they probably do not care to even instigate, let alone use, these advanced and more then capable solutions.

    So what can we do? Rally behind google(some would disagree) and their solution for not only using an open solution for the client but allowing and aiding in the development for third party clients. I know I have become a user of jabber(by way of my gmail account) for 90% of my daily IM conversations. Hopefully that same trend will continue when gtalk become populated with voip users.

    Speaking googletalk* – one thing it is missing is pc to land line like skype has – for us gnu/linux users this is a non issue with telepathies ability to mix sip and JabberVoice in almost every way possible.

    *This is untrue if it breaks into a new area like going from aim to skype.
    **Telepathy is gtalk capable for us free software desktop folks)
    *** Google seems to have plans for SIP support soon to allow a simple and very powerful solution for those who want PC to landline

  4. Meneer R says:

    1. Skype does not run on all systems:

    Examples: Any PPC linux distrobution? Ubuntu, Yellow Dog (PS3), etc.

    2. Skype does not allow 3rd party clients:

    This means we can’t extend or improve its behavior

    3. Skype is free and cheap _now_. But for how long?

    The more users, the less chance we can afford to move to the competition. When they reach critical mass (say 30% of the population uses Skype daily), they will start to capitalize. Then they have monopoly and they will extort us.

    Remember the days when Windows was the cheapest choice?
    Look where that got us.

    4. Even the normal phone-net needs the goverment to keep it fair.

    In holland, the goverment ordered and specified the price that competitors were allowed to pay to enter the major phone net. Because otherwise there wasn’t going to be any competition.

    Eventually Skype too will be put in its place by (at that time) the European Union. But why go that annoying complicated way when we can just switch to open networks? Exactly.


  5. garrett says:

    I’m not arguing for Skype, I would much rather prefer something completely open (protocol and source). I was just pointing out reasons why Skype is successful and other things are not. Its success has nothing to do with technical details (nor do technical details limit its adoption), but with what people using the software perceive.

    As far as Wengo is concerned, I tried it out. First of all, it was a pain to download — the pages were a bit confusing and it sent me the Windows EXE version first (after clicking on download on the front page). After figuring out how to download the correct version (by selecting a small unlabeled icon on the page that doesn’t look clickable), I installed it and tried running it. Unfortunately, the program was broken — the contact list was empty and when I clicked to add people, nothing happened. I’ll try again on another computer.

    Jabber is great, and SIP is good too. I do wholeheartedly agree that we need to champion not just open source software, but open protocols.

    Regardless, the issues that I brought up need to be addressed in any successful project. From what I’ve seen Banter seems to be the best candidate for something like this. As far as working on every platform, if it plays nicely and interoperates with other clients on other operating systems (such as working with Google Talk on Windows, iChat and Adium on OS X), then that’s an excellent start.

    SIP dialing needs to be very easy to do. Ideally, it should not require any configuration to set it up. Regardless, talking computer-to-computer should work without any tweaking at all.

    I would like to point out that one thing that most open source software traditionally has been missing has been friendliness and being instantly useful to an end user. Without these qualities, the software just will not be used, unless it provides something of real value to the one who uses the software, or if that user has convictions about using open source software. Thankfully, it has been getting significantly better over the years.

    And I’d like to note that there are similar challenges with even the most widely used proprietary software, too. The big difference is that for proprietary software to succeed, it needs to go after the users. Open source software will succeed either way (perhaps with some other metrics of “success”), but in order for it to be truly useful, it needs to also focus on the person using the software, and not just us geeks making it.

    I’ll end this comment with a comparison between pages of different voice-enabled communication software. When you look at each, please think about who the audience is, and what the goal of the software should be. Ask yourself “Is this primarily made for a developer, or does it enable everyone to be able to easily chat with others?” and “What is the point of this software? What can it do for me?”

    Feature pages:

    Splash / product pages

    Okay, I could post more examples, but I think you probably will get the idea with just the few above.

  6. Rob says:

    s/firewall/NAT, surely?

  7. LaGrane says:

    1. No need to worry about firewalls or other crazy configuration.
    Hm. Maybe my blind luck, but I never had to worry about firewall configuration for Ekiga.
    2. It is free (or cheap) to use.
    VOIP as well.
    3. It works on nearly everyone’s computer.
    PPC anyone? Or, maybe, my Nokia E61i with SIP OOTB?
    4. People using Skype can talk to others who don’t even use (or have heard of) the software.
    5. Skype is a catchy, simple name
    …and generally has magic marketing powers. And, in case of Poland, everyone uses it. As far as I know, there are no real technical (in the sense “IT”) reasons for using Skype over SIP, maybe except that with Skype you can talk with Skype users.

    The fact is, in corporate environment in Poland Skype is a de-facto standard communication system, rapidly replacing Gadu-Gadu. In my *immediate* environment Windows is losing ground fast, but I already was a subject of some corporate strongarming because of me not using Skype.

  8. Ali Sabil says:

    I think I agree a bit with garett, I use Skype myself heavily since it is the only thing that works for me and that allows me to call my family/friends without spending hours explaining to them how to enable port forwarding in their routers.

    Ekiga worked in about 10% of the cases I tried it out, Wengo just keeps crashing on both Linux and OSX, and when it doesn’t crash it just reports an error when I try to make a call.

    I would be very happy to see a free alternative to Skype that everyone can install and get ready to make a call without doing some black magic. I hate Skype for not being free, for being full of obfuscation, but most of the times that’s the only solution I am left with, as an example, I have been to 3 different universities, and only 1 of them allowed H323 and no SIP at all in their campus, that’s very silly because it forces people to use Skype and then overload the network.

  9. RedDwarf says:

    Wengo really needs to be improved. I can use it without problems, but is far from perfect (an near “beta”).
    But someone is really arguing that doesn’t exist a single SIP client that is good enough? There are lots of SIP clients, both free and propietary, for sure there is at least one that is good enough for every kind of user. Since every user can use a different client should be no problems. If there isn’t a single SIP software good enough for you… use a hardware SIP phone, can’t be easier and have the same benefits, you do not need to start the PC at all.

    Firewalls and NAT??? He have tons of NAT traversal techniques, just search in Wikipedia, and they are implemenetd on a lot of SIP clients. Ekiga can be used easily with a free STUN server. And we also have UPnP/NAT-PMP… nowadays I don’t really see problems in the use of SIP clients behind firewalls or NAT.

  10. yay says:

    “It works on nearly everyone’s computer. Mac? Windows? Linux? N800? Yeah, it’s there. One person’s Skype install works with any of the other ports, without fuss.”

    O rly? I didn’t know video support already works on Linux and Mac!

  11. garrett says:

    @yay: yeah, video works on the Mac, but it doesn’t on Linux yet, afaik. (According to their dev blog that I just looked at, they’re working on it.)

    Still, I talking about communication in general, mainly audio.

    (Banter already works with video. So does Ekiga.)

  12. Tehk says:


    I looked it up and the client seems nice. What I like more is the telepathy backend. It is amazing since you can relay sip to Jabber-libjingle, party chat, and speak with most protocols.

    Now we need to just bulk up a front end for telepathy like Banter.

  13. Simos says:

    Skype is not as cheap for VOIP-out calls nowdays; it is cheaper with the companies from Betamax GmbH,
    which can be accessed with Ekiga with SIP.

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