Skype & The New Skype 5.0 For Windows

After many months in beta Skype For Windows 5.0 went “Gold” a couple of weeks ago. The release was made available to all for down load. As I was running the beta I dutifully downloaded the final release to my various Windows systems.

While I was running the beta release I can’t say that I was an active participant in the beta program. I wanted to try the multi-way video calling, which was said to be the major new feature in the release. It works about as you’d expect. You can make video calls to up to ten people, but the video will be at best VGA resolution.

I’ve made a few test calls using this new video calling capability, but it has not worked its way into my routine. Interestingly, there seems to be little interest in video calling using soft clients within the ranks of my employer. People have the webcams but can’t be bothered to use them. In fact, we mostly use Skype for IM and ad hoc file exchange. Even escalating from Skype IM to voice chat is pretty rare.

Back when I was asked to research a video conference installation between our UK and US offices our CEO specifically directed me to evaluate “serious hardware end-points.” He simply was not interested in using a soft client on a PC in the board room, although he did accept the need to integrate some kind of desktop screen sharing.

I wonder if merely purchasing a couple of the newer HDTVs with an integrated Skype client would meet his idea of our needs, as well as satisfy his desire to conserve budget? Although, at around $3k those HDTVs currently command a premium price. That’s very near the cost as a lesser HDTV and a LifeSize Passport. And much less than a HDTV & Logitech Revue!

Late in the beta process it seems that Skype altered some of their strategy with respect to the new features in Skype For Windows v5.0. Rather than multi-way video calling the major new feature grabbing headlines was integration with Facebook. While Dog+World seems to be enamoured with this idea (CNET,All Facebook, Om, WJS ATD) I can’t say it holds any value for me, or my employer.

While there are many companies on Facebook the simple fact is that companies in deep vertical technology niches don’t often leverage Facebook as an aspect of their marketing strategy. While there may be an Oracle fan page I can’t imagine that Oracle takes orders as a direct result of that fact. True, it’s an aspect of managing their brand, but that’s not often a primary concern for smaller companies like ours. Not even one of our competitors has a significant presence on Facebook.

No it seems to me that Facebook is a time sink. It’s just one manifestation of the idea that user-generated content is the new trend in entertainment. We’re amusing ourselves, voluntarily, while others find ways to reap the revenues. As usual, the gatekeepers get paid.

It seems to me that Facebook is a 100% retail phenomenon, and growing at a rate most often witnessed in vigorous cancers. Perhaps there’s something of a parallel?

The Skype partnership with Facebook seems like a strategy moving at a tangent to things like Skype Connect (Formerly Skype-For-SIP) and Skype-For-Asterisk. Those were efforts to take Skype from a pure consumer play more into the realm of business, or so we were told at the time.

The trouble with the larger strategy of “Skype Everywhere” is that it seems a bit grandiose, and plagued with problems. Others have noted that Skype launches clients various platforms are suffering fragmentation in a manner that’s most un-Skype-like. The Mac, PC and Linux clients are all offering different feature sets. Mac users are typically frustrated to find that the feature set in their client lags the Windows releases by many months.

It’s worse for Linux users, but they seem to care less. They have myriad open source and standards compliant alternatives to Skype.

Returning to my experience with Skype For windows 5.0, it works as promised. Even so, I find that I’m offended by many small things about the new desktop client application.

In general it demands more screen real estate, but often without adding any real value for the land grab. I don’t care about the ability to see a picon of every person in my contact list. Nor did I need to see an emoticon previously. At least the emoticons conveyed presence information that’s genuinely useful.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a nice big 24″ LCD  on my desk. It resolves 1920 x 1080 pixels, so I have no lack of screen space. In fact, for a while I had two of these screens on my desk, but that seemed superfluous.

Rest assured that I’m never going to use the Skype Home screen. If I want to access Facebook I will log into Facebook.

Remember that part of the promise of all this “stuff in the cloud” was that the browser was the app…there would be no installable application. Might someone leverage Voxeo’s new Phono API to implement a Skype-like service without any installable application?

Skype seems to have forgotten how they came to be where they are. They had an application and a service used for communication. It was multi-modal. We accepted their proprietary approach because “it just worked” where standards-based approaches were fraught with problems. It was a lightweight application…and that was part of the magic. I fear that’s the part that’s being lost.

In their desire to be more things to more people they run the risk of turning into common bloatware like Lotus Notes or Microsoft Outlook.

Then comes word that Skype has disconnected Nimbuzz. This after they had a tussle with Fring earlier this year. One has to begin to ponder what it means to be part of the Skype ecosystem? It’s not like family, more like friends. Clearly you get to pick and choose your friends. Some friends get abandoned as you move through high school. Nimbuzz and Fring, while helpful early adopters, are no longer allowed at the back of the bus where the cool kids sit.

Yet, I see Skype the company doing so many great things. As mentioned before, their work with the IETF CODEC Working Group has been outstanding, a brilliant example of open corp involvement in a standards process.

This contrast in observed behavior is perplexing.

So I find Skype For Windows v5.0 to be nice, but something of a disappointment. I suspect it merely points to some of the things going on inside the company. Things that are apparently going in many different directions. It seems that I’m not the only one who has noticed.

The strategy so eloquently described as “Skype Everywhere” may be lacking in the one thing that they truly need…focus.

  • Skype 5.0 is frankly unreliable compared to previous versions (which were not awesome but 10x better). Both beta and release versions under Windows suffer from locking up video, lost audio, crackles, and worse. Screen sharing stops functioning randomly.

    CPU usage on my dual core machine is running at close to 100% now, whereas 70% was “normal” before.

    All this with just one point-to-point call with Logitech 9000 cams on both ends.

    It’s really tragic that Skype has so much marketshare for a proprietary system. Almost as tragic as Gizmo5 being purchased and closed down by Google to create their closed Google Voice application.

    And so we juggle buggy Skype, Bria to be our SIP softphone with no real good HD Voice alternatives. I mean, really, almost 2011 and getting really robust high definition voice (much less video) through by 20mbps internet connection is grotesquely problematic.

    Rick