No open-source Skype ... yet

Most people love Skype, the VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) program, but Linux users have a love/hate relationship with it. Yes, Skype will run on some versions of Linux, but it doesn't run on all of them, and the Linux versions (2.1-beta) lags far behind the Windows version.

Still, Linux users really want Skype, so every now and again, another story starts that Skype is going to go open-source. In the latest Skype open-source rumor, it's claimed that "We are happy to be able to inform you that Skype will from now on be part of the open source community."

The basis for this? Some correspondence between Skype technical support and a Mandriva Linux user (Skype supports generally older versions of Debian, Fedora, openSUSE, and Ubuntu). In it, the French-speaking Skype technical support rep said that it's possible that the final version of Skype for Linux will be open source.

That wasn't much, but it did hint that it might be possible that Skype was going to at least make its Linux client open-source. I decided it was worth my time to look further.

I gave Skype a call in Luxembourg. A Skype public relations spokesperson quickly replied: "We appreciate our user community's enthusiasm and realize this is something they have been wanting for a while. We realize the potential of the open-source community and believe that making Skype for Linux an open source application will help to speed up its development and enhance its compatibility with different versions of Linux. While it is our goal to make Skype for Linux source code available to the community in the near future, we are not at a point to disclose an exact release date yet."

I'm not going to hold my breath, but it does sound like Linux desktop users may finally get an up-to-date Skype client, and one's that open source to boot.

As nice as that is, I'm a little puzzled by why people are so excited about Skype. There are already many excellent Linux VoIP open-source programs either already built into your Linux distribution or just a download away.

To name a few clients, there's Ekiga, which is part of the GNOME desktop; LinPhone, which also works on Windows; and QuteCom (formerly WengoPhone), which runs on Macs, Windows PCs, and Linux boxes. Most of these programs use the open SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) standard, so they can work with each other. There are also several open-source VoIP server programs, such as Asterisk and FreeSwitch if you want to run a business or group VoIP phone exchange of your own.

In other words, while an open-source and up-to-date Skype for Linux would be good news, Linux users actually don't need Skype so much as they need to start using the programs that already have. Don't get me wrong. Skype is good. But Skype is far from the be-all and end-all of VoIP.

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