SkypeKit Hypocrisy

Skype finally announced it’s much-anticipated new project, SkypeKit. It’s a new SDK that basically separates the Skype user interface from their underlying proprietary protocol used to make and receive voice and video calls. I was generally thinking this would be good news since it will allow Skype to be incorporated into other programs like the multi-protocol IM apps Pidgin, Empathy, and Adium. However, I was disappointed and somewhat appalled to read the following in their announcement:

Is SkypeKit ‘open’? What will you restrict?

The topic of openness is often debated and its definition can mean different things to different people. For starters, we believe in an open Internet and open standards. We are adopting an open approach meaning we are releasing APIs and enabling others to use SkypeKit and apply it in new ways. But, SkypeKit won’t be opened up to every single use case that developers dream up. For example, our license terms prohibit using SkypeKit for gambling or adult-themed applications.

This infuriated me. Where do I start with it? The first sentence is absolutely true. However, it’s completely irrelevant to the proprietary Skype universe. They’re hinting that SkypeKit somehow fits under one of those definitions. It doesn’t. The second sentence may also be true. They just happen to not practice what they believe in because their protocol and codecs, although free, are definitely not “open.” The third sentence is an oxymoron. Since when does “an open approach” mean “letting other people plug into your software?” That’s actually offensive to me. The fourth sentence further highlights the oxymoron of the previous sentence. The fifth sentence is a hyperbole used to make readers think that SkypeKit will only disallow spammers or societal deviants from using their service. Of course, who they actually disallow will be at their discretion.

As a Skype user and a little bit of a fan, I have to say that I’m quite appalled by the SkypeKit announcement. I can overlook the closed-source, proprietary nature of Skype because it works well for me but only if they’re honest about it. If they continue to hawk their service like it’s FOSS (in any way), I probably won’t be interested in continuing my business with them.

So, let me summerize SkypeKit for you. They separate their underlying service/protocol from the outer user interface. This allows Skype to work on more devices easily (including computer applications, televisions, phones, media centers, etc.), where the user interfaces are always different. This will allow Skype to become integrated into, for example, Pidgin/Adium, AIM, Google Chat, Google Chrome OS, and your TV. Skype acts like they’re doing you a favor by allowing their service to run on it. (Maybe they are?). But Skype also charges developers fees if they want to incorporate Skype’s protocol into one of their projects. Gee, so now they’re not free (as in gratis), free (as in libre), or open. Why couldn’t they just answer “no” and be honest with everyone? They could’ve saved face in my book.

Cellphone Economics Revisited: One Year In

Last year I devised a plan to save myself a ton of money by revising my cellphone service. I was paying $576 per year (including taxes) for a mediocre cell plan from AT&T. I’m happy to report that my plan has been a fantastic success. Using this plan, I managed to pay $188.56 (including taxes) for my phone service for the entire year. That includes $162.01 for 1500 prepaid cellphone minutes and $26.55 for a 1-year Skype subscription. The Skype subscription is really the key here. I made a 30 to 60-minute phone call on average of 4 nights/week, every week for a year, for $26 total. That’s pretty amazing. Otherwise, I would have been using about 720 minutes/month to talk to Sadie on my cell every night, in which case talking to her with a regular phone plan including “free” nights and weekends would have been cheaper.

With my heavy reliance on Skype, you’re probably wondering what the service is like. To be honest, it’s better than I expected. I very rarely had a dropped call, and for the most part the sound quality was quite clear. Sadie even told me that she was impressed with the call quality, saying it sounded just as good as if I were calling from a cell.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/nichollsphotos/2906834393/

CC-NC-ND: Jason Nicholls

Were there any downsides to using Skype? Only a few minor ones, some of which I had predicted. Unless you sign up for a SkypeIn online number ($30/year), when you call someone who has Caller ID, your number shows up as something crazy (like 0001123456789), and it’s always different. This scared a lot people who weren’t used to it, since they had no idea who was calling. Sometimes my mom still screens my calls with the answering machine. I could have also gotten around this by buying some Skype Credit, which can be used to disguise Skype calls as ones coming from my cell number. I need the credit in order to send and receive a text message from Skype to my cell to verify the number. I would have done this long ago, but unfortunately the lowest amount of Credit you can buy is $10. I would have had $9.80 worth of Credit still sitting in my account. I decided to save my money and live with the inconvenience for the time being. I also had an issue with poor call quality using my Skype-to-Go calling card, but it significantly improved at some point last Fall.

As serendipity would have it, Google Voice also launched last year. I linked my new Google Voice number to my cell number so that I can give out my Google Voice number and it will ring my cell. Then, if I ever decide to buy a SkypeIn online number, I can tell Google Voice to ring my cell and my computer when someone is calling.

So what is my plan for the future? At least for the next year, I plan to keep doing what I’m doing. I may splurge and buy a SkypeIn number and hook it up to Google Voice. It would not only stop the Caller ID problem I mentioned, but it would also allow me to receive phone calls on my computer, which would be a big help. I would say that at least half of my cellphone minutes are used because someone is calling my phone, and I can’t answer it on Skype. The only thing keeping me from doing that right away is the rumor that Google Voice is soon going to become a desktop VOIP provider and thus a direct Skype competitor. If they can offer competitive rates to Skype, I may have little reason not to use them. Of course, Skype is likely announcing an open-source client, which would be fantastic. Then it will be a battle to see who provides the best quality service, the best price, and the best open-source/Linux compatible platform. It’s shaping up to be quite a year!

On a related note, LifeHacker picked up this topic today. As I posted in their comments: Every time that I have the urge to get a smart phone, I cringe at how much more it’ll cost me every year for features that I don’t even need, and I quickly remember why I don’t already have one 🙂