Skype for Linux Alpha Draws Cheers, Jeers

Microsoft last week introduced a new Web-based Skype for Linux client in alpha.

Based on WebRTC, it uses Microsoft’s next-generation calling architecture. It lets users share files, photos, videos and new emoticons.

Users will be able to call others using the latest versions of Skype on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. However, they won’t be able to make or receive calls using earlier versions of Skype for Linux.

Microsoft also introduced an alpha version of Skype based on WebRTC for users of Chromebooks or the Chrome browser on Linux; it will deliver Skype video calling, as well as the ability to call landlines and mobile phones.

Skype for Linux Alpha

Skype for Linux Alpha

Alpha Shortcomings

The Skype for Linux alpha does not have all the features that will be released into the final version.

It has been tested with the following Linux distros:

Fedora 23Ubuntu Gnome 16.04Ubuntu 16.04OpenSuse KDE 13.2Debian 8.5OpenSuse Leap 42.1 KDEThe Skype for Linux alpha also has been tested with different desktop environments: Gnome, Unity, Mate, Cinnamon and KDE. However, there are differences among the environments.

It can be installed globally but supports only the English language.

The Jury Is Out

Many Linux users have voiced comments critical of Microsoft’s effort.

“Literally just a worse, closed source version of the free and open source Ghetto Skype!” wrote pm 79080 in comments following the official announcement.

“So basically you put Skype into a Web renderer and release it like an application. Just like Ghetto Skype but coming officially from Microsoft as it was the great answer to Linux users’ prayers. You really have to be kidding,” observed sad_linux_user.

“The only thing you’ve done here of value is make it native to 64 bit,” wrote Wellknownj. “The interface is clumsy at best. Options aren’t available. Please — why did you bother? Worse — why profess this is something to be excited about?”

On the other hand, “Awesome!” wrote scr1m3. “Been wishing for an improved Linux client for ages now.”

“It seems to work, at least with the Skype Echo/Sound Test Service,” wrote Rocketraman, who said he had “just installed the new version on Fedora23.”

Although the simpler UI of past versions was preferable, “I am happy that interop with newer Windows and Mac versions is being worked on for Linux. Keep up the good work!” he added.

“Cool, I’ll try it out on my Fedora machine. Nice to see Linux get some love. Some will hate it, but they can just not install it lol,” wrote Martinoj.

Above Board but Not Open

“Microsoft isn’t hiding from this community or misrepresenting its intent here,” noted Al Hilwa, a research program director at IDC. The alpha “is a significant improvement in Microsoft’s stance towards this small … but influential and critical community.”

Moving toward a unified Web architecture for the Skype client is good, he told LinuxInsider, but “the question is, when is this all going to come together?”

One strike against the alpha is that it’s not open source.

“Hardcore Linux developers and free software ideologues are unlikely to use this or any other version of Skype that remains closed source,” noted Bill Weinberg, senior director of open source strategy at The Linux Foundation.

Still, “I’m not sure that making code open for a SaaS offering really impacts its adoption,” he told LinuxInsider. “Amazon, Google, Salesforce and also Microsoft Azure enjoy broad adoption without opening their cloud implementations.”

The alpha’s inability to talk to older Skype clients will limit interest in it initially, IDC’s Hilwa pointed out.

Overall, though, Web-based Skype “will make a real difference for Linux users who work in mixed environments,” said Weinberg, “where their company and colleagues make standard use of Skype on Windows and Macs.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

1 Comment

  • Sam Varghese did a poor job of criticising this article.

    He seems to have attributed lots of opining to Richard Adhikari which is unwarranted and not in the article.

    The article by Richard is news and merely states facts and others’ opinions in a fairly balanced way. For example, Mr. Varghese complains that Mr. Adhikari’s article says "The Skype for Linux alpha does not have all the features that will be released into the final version."

    This is true. This is a fact. It is news. Why is Mr. Varghese complaining? I believe it is because he misattributes some sort of bad intent on Mr. Adhikari’s part.

    Why would somebody be so vehement about a simple news article about an alpha version of software? I just don’t understand.

    Thank you, Mr. Adhikari, for giving us a nice article on Skype for Linux alpha. I appreciate it.

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