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Skype Comes to Linux in a Snap

By Jack M. Germain
Feb 2, 2018 1:17 PM PT
skype-snap-linux

Canonical on Thursday announced the availability of Skype as a Snap file, the universal Linux app packaging format. The release means that Skype can deliver its communication service to a wider range of Linux users, not just those who run Canonical's Ubuntu Linux distribution.

Skype, a Microsoft product, is an application that lets users make video and voice calls, and send files, video and instant messages.

Skype-to-Skype calls are free anywhere in the world. Premium features like voicemail, SMS texts, or calls to landlines and cellphones carry a cost.

Releasing Skype as a Snap file ensures Linux users automatically will receive the latest versions upon release, said Evan Dandrea, engineering manager for Snapcraft at Canonical.

In addition, the Snap rollback feature will let users revert to the previous working version in the event of a bug, he told LinuxInsider.

"There is the added benefit of security. The installations are more secure. They are sandboxed using container protocols," Dandrea said.

What It Does

The Skype Snap works natively on all Linux distributions that support Snaps, including Linux Mint, Manjaro, Debian, Arch Linux, OpenSuse, Solus and Ubuntu. The Skype desktop application is compatible across a wide range of Linux platforms, opening it to a broad range of devices and millions of users.

Snap packages do not work with all Linux distros, but the great majority of them support Snap installations, said Dandrea.

Snaps are containerized software packages designed to work securely within any Linux environment across desktop, the cloud and Internet of Things devices. Thousands of Snaps have been launched since 2016.

Users will be able to land on one download page and get guided instructions for the Snap installation without Microsoft needing to know how the user's computer is configured. Every time Microsoft pushes an update, the user's installation automatically gets updated.

How It Works

The automatic updating system polls the Snapcraft servers four times per day to check on the availability of any updates. If there are any, the user's system will pull them down and automatically install them.

"Users no longer have to worry about what version is running. Microsoft doesn't have to worry about people running old versions," said Dandrea.

It is not a manual process on the end user's system. It is transparent to Microsoft as well. Users can trust that the Skype installation is not going to interfere with any other application on their system.

For Microsoft, it means the application is tamper-proof. It can not be modified on the user's system or compromised by another application, explained Dandrea.

Less-Bothersome Platform

The Snapcraft platform lets Microsoft have one binary file that targets all of Linux, not one per distribution. The Snap package is the same version as the one running on Windows. There is no lagging on functionality.

Skype installations do not have to target different releases. Engineers can focus on adding features and differentiating their applications.

"This is what makes the process so exciting. We don't want Microsoft to have to spend a lot of time packaging. We want that to be as simple and intuitive as possible," Dandrea said.

The Snap distribution model appears to be a success. Snap's distribution model for new software versions is particularly valuable for widely diverse users and devices, like those utilizing open source solutions, noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"Plus, its rollback feature provides a quick means of retreat for developers and users who discover problems with app updates," he told LinuxInsider.

Essential Tool

Microsoft Windows long has been the core OS for the vast majority of businesses globally. Microsoft's 2011 purchase of Skype from eBay meant it could begin adding features, such as free/low-cost calling and messaging, to its productivity solutions and platforms, noted King.

"While there are obviously competing VoIP communications available, none offer the deep integration and seamless functionality that Skype provides to Windows-using businesses," he said.

The addition of Snap and its related features and functions to Skype is the most recent example of the continuing Microsoft support for Linux and open source users and platforms, King added.

"Skype has been enabling the world's conversations for over 10 years," said Jonas Tajrych, senior software engineer at Skype. "We want to be able to deliver the same high-quality experience on Linux as we do on other platforms."

Snaps allow Microsoft to do just that with its ability to push the latest features straight to users, he said, regardless of the device or distribution.


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software. Email Jack.


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salesforce commerce cloud
salesforce commerce cloud