Skype has revolutionized international and long distance communication. By using Skype between two computers, you can skirt long distance charges. Using Skype with landlines and cell phones results in a reasonable charge.
Skype has been in the news lately and it looks like their relationship with parent company eBay isn’t going so well. While I don’t expect anything drastic, the Bloomberg article does mention “The company said it might have to shut down Skype if the dispute with the founders isn’t resolved.”
What would happen if Skype’s service were to deteriorate or stop due to some stupid boardroom antics? What other alternatives do we have?
Two areas that Skype covers are communication between two computers and communication dealing with a traditional landline or cell phone. Depending on your needs, there are different alternatives.
Other considerations are: The ability to IM, video calls, conferencing, security / encryption, Mac / Windows / Linux compatibility, quality of calls and ease of use.
MSN Messenger Network: First up is the behemoth MSN Messenger Network. Forget about the official OS X version of MSN Messenger, it’s cripple-ware. Download aMSN instead. Features included include: video calling, conferencing support, file transfers, IM, and cross-platform compatibility. Quality depends on your connection, but isn’t bad, and it’s easy to use.
iChat AV: Apple’s iChat AV is included with OS X. It gives you the ability to IM, video call, video conference (amount of clients depends on connection), file transfer and delivers a decent quality. When used in conjunction with the AIM (AOL) or Jabber (MSN, Yahoo, Google Talk) networks, it can be cross-platform, however the conferencing features may not completely work. For it’s full potential, it’s best between two Macs, if that’s all you need, then this is a good choice for you.
ooVoo: After researching their features for home and business users, ooVoo looks like a strong competitor for Skype. It allows the usual chatting, audio and video calls, and file transfers. In addition, for a fee, it also allows you to phone cell phones and landlines, audio and video conference with up to 6 participants, and desktop sharing. The downside of ooVoo is that the free version AND the paid versions (except business) serve up advertising unless you pay an additional $2. Also, mobile phone calling is US and Canada only, landline support is US, Canada, and the UK. In reality, they’re not really a strong competitor at all.
Note: By US, ooVoo doesn’t mean Alaska and Hawaii.
Google Talk: With Google Talk, you can audio and video chat right from your GMail interface. All you’ll need to do is install a browser plugin. It’s cross-platform, works internationally and is easy to set up. Unfortunately, Google Talk only works with computer to computer calls right now.
Google Voice: Google’s purchase of GrandCentral gave them Google Voice. Using the VoIP protocol to link phones together, Google Voice works with domestic and international landlines and cell phones. It’s a free service except for international calls, which are a “reasonable rate”. (I couldn’t find actual rates listed..) Right now, Google Voice is by invite only but I’m sure once it comes out of Invite mode, using it in conjunction with Google Talk will easily become a decent alternative to Skype. However, as a search company who loves personal information, I’m a little suspect of many of Google’s services. Remember, even if Google’s services are free – there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Gizmo5: Another Skype competitor is Gizmo5. With the ability to make computer to computer calls free and reasonable rates for calling landlines and mobiles (internationally), Gizmo5 provides decent features. Another great feature is their OpenSky service which allows you to connect to Skype users.
While many of these alternatives take care of the calling and communication part of Skype, none of them really address the privacy issues. Skype has encryption built-in to eliminate eavesdropping and none of the other services advertise any sort of encrypted communications. I did come across BitWiseIM which will allow cross-platform computer to computer communications in encrypted form but it doesn’t support video calls (yet..).
What may happen?
Although I don’t believe Skype will go away, if parent company eBay continues it’s shenanigans, Skype may morph into something else. I do know that the founders of Skype are attempting to break away from eBay and they hold the patents on the technology that Skype works upon. Remember, Skype is built upon KaZaa’s decentralized peer to peer model and should be able to run without any centralization. However, landline / mobile phone calling may be difficult. We’ll just have to wait and see..