Last week, Skype has been having a bit of trouble; well, quite a bit of trouble. That’s the kind of trouble that make you very angry with your service provider, until you think twice and remember you’re probably not paying for it — at least, that’s what should happen for most people. Yes I know there are people who pay for Skype, but I’m pretty sure that most of those complaining, don’t; for a simple reason: if you’re paying for a service and such service does not work, you do not bitch on the net, you get to the customer care and demand your money back.
For whatever reason – which mostly relates to the human instinct for seeing conspiracies everywhere they can – people blamed Microsoft for it even though that is virtually impossible to be the cause, heck even the acquisition is not complete yet!
It would have been a good time to show users how relying on a proprietary, close-garden technology without any reliability assurance such as Skype is not the smartest business move. But no, a number of people, including some self-appointed Free Software advocates, preferred once again painting Microsoft as the Big Evil, the One True Ruler and so on. And nevermind if that means that Skype has always been a proprietary, closed, patented technology; it was good just because they made a Linux client! Alas.
Now, there possibly be another chance to get that crowning moment (geek points to those who guess where my title comes from): if Microsoft really were to drop support for Skype on platforms they don’t control. Right now you can use Skype on Windows, Linux, OS X, Android, iPhone, PSP (3000 and Go models only), Symbian, some TVs, a number of hardphones and so on. Rumours want Microsoft ready to cut down all these accesses to be the only ones controlling the technology. I’d expect otherwise.
While it is difficult to argue that Microsoft cares much about Linux (they definitely care more about OS X than they do Linux), it seems suicidal for Microsoft to take away the one feature that keeps most of the Skype users attached to it: omnipresence. Wherever you are, you have Skype, which is why even I keep on using it (even though I have a number of backup options). Microsoft seems to know what it means to be interoperable with Linux, from time to time, as it should be noted with them helping Novell working on Moonlight to have compatibility with Silverlight.
But facts shouldn’t get in the way of strong opinions when it comes to Microsoft, as people who should know better prefer to paint them as a single-minded, evil corporation, with the aggravating quality of being incompetent and suicidal. I’ll be clear here and say out loud that trying to paint Bill Gates as Elliot Carver is borderline insane.
First of all, trying to paint any corporation as single-minded shows that they never had to deal with one. In any relatively big company or project, not having multiple heads and directions would be impossible. This is why Microsoft can produce utter crap as well as decent stuff, fail badly or show off cool technology such as the Kinect. But again, you can’t even argue that they did a decent job at providing clear API for their XBox that you get painted as being on their payroll as they couldn’t possibly get anything right. Talk about echo-chambers, uh?
On the other hand, I don’t have any reason to expect Microsoft to do the obvious marketing move; there are a number of possible moves, and one might very well be to drop support for non-Microsoft platforms from the new version of their software, or at least of their protocol, as unlikely as I think it to be. Will that be bad for Linux or for Free Software? Only if we argue that losing the proprietary Skype client is bad — which we could only do if we also accepted that software might be proprietary; I do accept that, but the same advocates above doesn’t always sound that way.
What we could do instead is get ready for when Skype could collapse due to Microsoft’s action, and show that it is possible to have an alternative. But having an alternative does not mean merely trying to reverse engineer the protocol, means getting our act together and find a decent way to have videochat in Linux without going crazy — I haven’t tried pidgin in a while, but last time it didn’t let me configure neither the audio nor video input, which would get wrong.
While I know there are enough developers who are working on this, I also expect advocates, and their sites, wasting the chance of making good publicity for Free Software and instead prefer playing the blame game, as pictured above. Gotta love reality, uh?