Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Corporate IT won't run Linux desktops because of the 'Skype attitude'

Skype is not a small product or small company. Their VOIP product is used by millions of people every day (it currently tells me that 20,944,942 people are online), and carries more international phone calls than AT&T. Skype's attitude to Linux desktop users is frankly disturbing. Take a look at the chart of software issues for the Skype client:

76% of issues in the JIRA database are new. Compare this with the Windows client, where 21% of issues are new. It seems that Skype is truly uninterested in their Linux user base, expending minimal or no resources on it. Even if you take into account that the Linux client is several steps back from the Windows version and the development team is apparently working on a new version, the number of open issues is still worrying (they claim to be in a late Beta stage, but audio does not work with a large proportion of modern OS versions and there is no timeline to fix it). So, Lesson #1, DON'T INSTALL A BETA VERSION OF SKYPE IF YOU WANT TO CALL PEOPLE!

Lesson #2 ties in closely with Lesson #1, and really highlights Skype's contempt for its Linux user base, and worse, new customers. If go to install Skype from the corporate website, as a new Windows or Mac user you are taken to a page where you can download and install the latest stable version of the product. Linux customers beware: you are taken to a download page for the Beta version of the client - remember this is the one with audio that does not work with the recommended audio configuration of many common Linux distros such as Ubuntu. You have no option of installing the latest production version of the product. Even as a paying Skype customer, buying telephone call credit you do not have access to a production version of the product. So good luck if you try the Beta, find it doesn't work and want to roll back. You can't, because Skype has removed all links to the production version of the software. You are just left with software that doesn't allow you to make phone calls. As a note, I have raised issues with the development team, Skype support team and attempted to reach the Product Manager. For months. No pleasant surprises unfortunately.

So why is the Skype attitude to Linux users so lousy? Now, let's use the common assumption that Linux desktops account for at least 1% of desktop deployments. This suggests that the number of Skype users online at any time, running a Linux desktop is 200,000. No small number, though still only 1% of the overall user base. Or 1% of Skype's income of $550m in 2008, which means only $5.5m. Linux customers are not worth the effort. Skype is probably regretting ever putting a Linux version out in the wild (because now they have to support and update it), and are scared of the Linux community's attitude that would prefer they publish libraries that can be used to produce open source clients separate from the snails paced development Skype does with the proprietary client. Its hard to reconcile the open source concept into such a proprietary company.

It appears that in Skype's mind, all Linux users are potential Beta testers of their software. We all want to suffer software failures and issues. We also apparently want no way to ever recover from them, unless we follow Skype's unknown and unpublished roadmap. This is the attitude to the Linux desktop of a large commercial software provider. Maybe this helps us understand why corporate IT is so reluctant about installing Linux desktops - even if they don't want Skype on their networks, they can't trust a highly visible commercial company to write Linux software that works and manage it professionally, so what hope is there of trusting free, open source organizations from doing the right thing?

A post from the Improving It blog

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Shane said...

I use

It is compatible with any standards compliant SIP phone. I use Ekiga on Gnome/GTK based systems and Twinkle on KDE/Qt based systems. It works flawlessly, the customer service is stellar and the rates are great!

Put your money where your mouth is. If a company does not support you, don't give them your business. Why break away from dependency on one corporation (MS) and keep yourself latched on to another (Skype)?

No company or software is indispensable. Just like any other service, if the provider does not meet the grade, they will be replaced. This is not a reason to avoid using Linux in the workplace.

Anonymous said...

Why are you blaming SkyPE alone ? What about Yahoo!Messenger for Linux, Live!Messenger for linux, GTalk for Linux, iChat for Linux, AIM for Linux.

Anonymous said...

What you say is just not entirely true.
I'm on Ubuntu and I'm using the latest beta without problems since it came out.
Agreed the Linux client is several steps back from the windows clien, but only if you look at it from a GUI perspective. Technically teh Linux client is not so far behind. It has support for the latest version of Skype's audio and video codec,HQ video support, SMS-send support, PulseAudio support, Screen sharing etc.

Yes, there are problems but the devs are working on them. They've put out 2 betas in the last couple of months, something which have not hppened for years. They are also working on opensourcing the GUI, so the community can work on improveing it.
You can't download the stable wersion, which was I think, because it is an almost 2 years old piece of software. A lot of things happened in two years which essentially broke that old version on modern Linux systems (like the adoption of Pulseaudio for one).

Betas are essential for the software development process, because the wider the user base is, the more issues got reported and essentially fixed. And since the two betas came out in the last couple of months, I think this is the reason for the number of new issues.

A lot of companyes just realising the potential, and the widened user base of Linux, and they are beginning to push Linux development of their software forvard, but it is a slow process and it wont happen from one day to the next. The Skype linux developers deserve credit for the work they do, and they are trying hard. They are active on the forums, and the development blog.

Skype in essentially a for-profit company. Without profits, there is no business. Skype call are only free as in beer, meaning for you to use the free service someone has to pay. The yhave to pay the devs, the admins, pay for server hosting, bandwidts, and a lot of things. Now one source of their revenue comes from skype to phone calls, for which you buy Skype credit.
The truth is the user base of the windows client is still musch-much more wider than that of the Linux clien. So you see where this is going.
They focus their efforts to where the most of the money is coming from, but at the same time they increasingly spending resurces (which are also not infinite and free I might add) on the Linux client too.

So be patient. In my country we have a saying that: A company can do three types of work: Good, Fast, and Cheap (in this case free) ... you can choose two!

Bobby said...

The problem is that there isn't really anything equivalent to Skype in the Linux world, the same applies to Flash Player. The idea behind Skype is great. The software is also great but the Linux version is an embarrassment when compared to the Windows version. Not only the looks but the feel and overall quality.
I am using Skype on openSuse 11.2 to communicate with my brother but I had a lot of problems in the beginning. It turned out that the audio device (microphone) wasn't set up properly and here I give the distros a part of the blame. Why can't these devices be automatically (on installation) set up so that the microphone works when it's connected or if there is an internal microphone that it just works.
Linux distros need to break free of users configuring this and that - hardware should just work!
Well I managed to configure the microphone and the solution was very simply but it took two weeks before I found the solution! Isn't that a waste of time?
Yes Skype sucks on Linux but the distros also add to the problem.

Michael Kadmiel said...

Not using Linux in a corporate environment based on the information below is a lame excuse. I'm an Information systems manager, and 150 of the 300 machines in the company are linux desktops. There's ways to fix the problems.

Anonymous said...

I'm not in agree.

1) companies use VOIP but Skype is the choice for lamers. Companies have their own asterisk server. Or they buy VOIP services from carriers.

2) Skype client works great on Ubuntu. The only issue is with webcam and it is very easy to solve.

3) If you use a VOIP service (see #1) you can use any SIP client and you change provider with no troubles.

Anonymous said...

@Bobby - Its all very well saying you want hardware to "just work". However, that can easily lead to a situation where, if it "doesn't just work" - how do you fix it? You must have both - out-of-the-box functionality which works for most people, and the ability to sort things out when there's a problem, which means config files etc. If everything is in the code (like some other OSs), you have practically have to become a maintainer for the package before a problem can be fixed. Network Manager is a case in point - its far too opaque,if somethings wrong, you can't just look in /etc & check the config. Its like the difference between administering a windows network with AD & all the rest of the rubbish, compared to setting up a GNU/Linux one - I've had experience of both, & windows is a nightmare, precisely for the reason that if it doesn't just work, it *never* bleedin' works & you might as well format everything & start again(I know because its happened to me several times)

Raj said...

Skype still manages to give something to ordinary linux desktops that has been conveniently ignored by all major proprietary players.
Yahoo has not released a messenger for linux in 7-8 years. So no voice or video chat if you are a yahoo user.
MSN .... (well why bother... we know they will not release anything for enhancing inter-operability with Linux users).
Even the great Google does not yet have a Gtalk client for Linux. So if you want to use voice chat you can only depend on a third party client to connect to your gtalk friends (who by the way can only talk and video if they are on the web client version which also requires all kinds of 3rd party codecs to work properly).
Open source video softwares are ridiculous and they work only for some ....
So what were you saying again about Skype?
That is the lifesaver for me to use voice and video with my family and friends for last few years. If it did not work for you it must be because of the distro you are using. Try something better. I use PCLinuxOS which is on the verge of coming out with a new kde4.4 based version. Try it.

Leandro said...

Skype never worked for me in Ubuntu, mas it was not because of Skype. The sound support in Linux is still work in progress. On the many machines I've installed Ubuntu the sound recording, in particular, was very faulty, independently of the application used. At first I thought it was Skype's problem, but when I realized that the problem existed in other applications (as simple as the sound recorder of Ubuntu, that comes installed), I stopped complaining about skype and started to post bugs to Ubuntu. The major issue for skype in linux is that one, is not that the skype client lacks the bells and whistles the windows version has.

Anonymous said...

I managed to get the latest Skype beta to work on Ubuntu 9.10. But it was indeed a struggle to set-up the sound correctly (though perhaps more to do with the combination of various sound cards/devices and the complex Pulse Audio settings). Skype Call Testing service invaluable here.

I actually find the Linux version of Skype - though 'behind' - much clearer, simpler, & user-friendly - compared to the Windows version which suffers from feature bloat. I often hear Windows skype callers confused - "where is the ... conference call option?; chat screen? etc".

Still there could be improvement in the Linux version's user interface.

I regularly buy Skype credit so I would be annoyed -if it is true- that my money is not being re-invested in improving the Linux version of the product.

I don't know anybody else who has an Ekigia account - so it is of no use to me; unfortunately. I would like to see Google Gtalk / (or is it Google Voice?) being available for Linux.

Van' said...

I'm not sure I follow you on this one. Corporate entities aren't migrating to Linux because of Skype? Not so much.

Companies want things as cheaply as possible, they've already invested in several generations of Windows products and applications that run on it. Considering companies aren't budging from Windows XP to Vista/Win7 in a big hurry either it's no surprise they aren't going to Linux.

Factor in that the ideas we have about Windows (it's got the word TONKA written on the side) is exactly the attitude corporate IT have about Linux; little Tonka toy OS for fun but not for business. As well as the expectation that all of the IT bods know Windows and officially don't know Linux (although most probably do) you'd need to retrain them.

It's all about cost, the perception of cost and general "it's good enough" attitude, not "Ohh, Skype won't run".

0e8h said...

The biggest problem are Linux Users. They wont properly setup PulseAudio. Skype needs standards and there are little standards on Linux regarding sound as users tinker or fail to setup correctly sound. PulseAudio attempts to make the sound system easy for developers, but they are as good as the users wanting and having abilities to use it.

Skype should only work on PulseAudio. Get it working correctly for that and leave others out of the picture, that way there wont be as many bug reports.

Eats Wombats said...

Strange. I had no end of trouble with Skype on Vista and after a good start on Windows 7 it stopped working well (I discovered later that the microphone was muting and manually controlling it resolve the problem). Frequently whenever I had problems I just fired up my Asus 1000 netbook and used Skype there on a version of Ubuntu and at no time has it ever given me a problem. It just works.

Those advocating SIP VOIP solutions overlook one important thing Skype has going for it: the combination of network effects and presence/availability indication. No phone does this.

Phil Ayres said...

Thank you all for your comments. I knew this would be a hot topic! The idea of my post was to highlight, as some of you say, that Skype is commercial and therefore will focus on where its customer base is. That does not in my opinion excuse a lack of professionalism in their handling of software releases and distribution. It is this lack of professionalism that IT could suggest is one reason they will never adopt Linux (you can't trust doing things for free may be their words). In this case, you can't trust a very common piece of commercial software, so what's the difference? Linux distros tend to have much more formal and effective release procedures than Skype is showing us.

Unfortunately there are some very pervasive commercial products out there that really make Linux look bad, as some of you have noted (add Flash to the list for example). While Linux distros are by no means perfect when it comes to their support for every piece of hardware in existence (neither was Vista, right?), add software that everyone recognizes, see it performing unacceptably badly and it tarnishes the OS.

NotZed said...

Youre still using Skype? Well, more's the fool you are then.

I know corporate environments that ban skype since it does funky stuff to get around firewalls and the like.

There's plenty of soft-phones (and routers and hard-phones) that use SIP that are cheaper to use, provide better service, and because it is a public standard, people know what it's doing.

You'd be better off putting your money where your mouth is, and ignoring skype altogether - maybe it's a market they're willing to give up, but maybe it isn't.

Corps don't run linux desktops because the middle-manager who makes the decisions doesn't want to lose his corporate box at the rugby. Users don't want to learn anything even remotely different. And internal software devs have been lured into being locked into a specific platform.

Jimmy said...

I like Skype. Works well for me on Linux Mint 8 and Windows 7. It's too bad most Linux apps don't look as good and Windows apps. Windows 7 runs well, and is IMHO the best OS out there followed by Linux Mint 8.

Anonymous said...

how about this bastard (aka close source) Skype that runs well on Tinycore linux? You do not know what tinycore is? (10 MB in RAM linux!). skype runs without ALSA, as I used it with OSS (forget bloat ALSA, back to origins with OSS now open source). Just search ARCH linux for info how to do it. Or better search tinycore forum about skype and OSS, with webcam and microphone. I hate close source by default, but use it when no better alternative. Same about flash versus gnash. I hope flash will die, as html 5 video will be more popular.