Does Skype Have a Future on Linux?
If the steadily growing user base and market share of Skype are any indication, the service, which is now nearly a decade old, will remain widespread on PCs, smartphones and other devices for a long time to come. But for Linux users, the future of Skype support is appearing a bit less certain. Will Skype — owned by Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) — still run on open source platforms five years from now? Here are some thoughts.
To be sure, there’s been no official indication that Skype, which was acquired by Microsoft a little over a year ago, will cease to support Linux. On the contrary: A Skype representative recently promised that development of the service’s Linux client remains active.
Yet reassurances by the Skype team aside, the fact remains that the Windows version of the software has received infinitely more love than its Linux — and, to a slightly lesser extent, Mac OS X — counterparts. This trend has held true in general since Skype was introduced, but it has become particularly pronounced in the time since Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype, during which there have been numerous updates to the Windows client and virtually none for the Linux version.
Skype and Linux in the Long Term
One can’t blame the Skype team too much for devoting relatively little attention to Linux, which represents only a tiny fraction of the desktop computers out there. (Linux’s presence on mobile devices in the form of Android, of course, is considerably harder to ignore, but that’s not quite the same thing.)
All the same, the relative neglect of the Skype Linux client is disappointingly similar to a pattern which has marked the slow death of Linux support for other popular software applications. Adobe’s announcement earlier this year of its intention to abandon Flash plugin for Linux — a decision that followed several years during which Flash on Linux remained officially supported but in practice development was all but non-existent — is the most obvious example. Netflix, which promised a Linux client long, long ago but never delivered, represents a similar case.
But Does It Matter?
Until Skype actually delivers on active Linux development, I’m reluctant to put too much faith in its promises of continued support. On the other hand, however, I’m also not too worried about the issue, since Skype is no longer the killer app it once was — and I say that as someone who uses VoIP tools day in and day out.
Five years ago, when I first moved abroad, Skype was essential for maintaining professional and personal contacts at home. I couldn’t have done my job — much less maintained my sanity — without Skype videoconferencing and cheap calls to phones overseas.
But since that time, a lot has changed, and I’m not sure Skype has kept up. Other services have appeared offering the same features for less money — not to mention fewer obnoxious behind-the-scenes drains on my Internet bandwidth of the sort that Skype uses. Virtually all chat protocols now support videoconferencing. More importantly for me, I can call phones back in the United States for free via Google Voice, while Skype still charges for PC-to-phone connections.
All in all, even if Skype use continues to grow, it seems to me that the platform has begun facing a brick wall. It hasn’t seen any real innovation in several years; most of the recent updates to the product have simply been bug fixes, incremental improvements to existing features or efforts to take advantage of more network bandwidth. The software is not the game changer it once was, and it lacks the integrative potential of competing services such as Google’s.
In VAR terms, then, Skype appears to be losing momentum, which is reassuring for me as a Linux user. I’m not so sure I’ll be able to run Skype on my Linux PC in five years, but I’m also not sure I’ll care.