Saturday, May 28, 2011

Microsoft cuts Asterisk ties--What are the open source Skype alternatives?

Microsoft has ended its deal to let the open source Asterisk PBX system work with Skype as of July 26, perhaps due to the launch of its own competing service.

When Microsoft paid $8.5 billion for Skype two weeks ago, they promised to hold it as a separate division and continue supporting non-Microsoft platforms, but users have been skeptical. It didn't take long for the tune to start to change. Maybe somebody should have asked for a pinky swear.

Where should an open source user turn instead? Earlier this week, the GNU Project announced GNU Free Call as an open source alternative, even calling Skype out by name in the project's mission:

Our goal is to make GNU Free Call ubiquitous in a manner and level of usability similar to Skype, that is, usable on all platforms, and directly by the general public for all manner of secure communication between known and anonymous parties, but without requiring a central service provider to register with, without using insecure source secret binary protocols that may have back-doors, and without having network control points of any kind that can be exploited or abused by external parties. By doing so as a self organizing meshed calling network, we further eliminate potential service control points such as through explicit routing peers even if networks are isolated in civil emergencies.

We do recognize this project has significant long term social and political implications. It also offers potentially essential utility in public service by enabling the continuation of emergency services without requiring existing communication infrastructure. There are many ordinary public service uses, such as the delivery of eHealth services, as well as medical, and legal communication, where it is essential to treat all with equal human dignity by maintaining privacy regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation. Equally important is the continuation of emergency medical services even when existing infrastructure is no longer available or has been deliberately disabled.

But GNU Free Call is the future, not something you can use today. And even though Skype was never exactly open source itself, more and more open source fans seem to be looking for ready alternatives that aren't under the Microsoft umbrella.

These are the suggestions I've seen come up on various message boards and blog posts. I haven't heard of any yet that are as user-friendly and ready-to-go as Skype. But I also don't have any experience with any of these, so I'd be interested to hear your opinions on any of the following or others that you like.

  • Ekiga: Formerly GnomeMeeting
  • Blink: VoiP calls, video, and chat
  • Jitsi: Also supports XMPP, AIM, and other IM services
  • SylkServer: SIP server and conferencing
  • SFLphone: Enterprise softphone for desktop and embedded
  • Linphone: VOIP client also available for Android, Blackberry, and iPhone
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