To Skype, or Not To Skype

I’ve been following Skype for a while, and with the advent of a Mac OS X client, I’m feeling some urgency to make a decision whether or not to give it a try.

Via MacDevCenter, Fran?ois Joseph de Kermadec’s article Skype on Mac OS X: A Hands-On Approach caused me to do a bit of soul searching.

Unfortunately, what I can’t seem to get past is that Skype uses proprietary technology. There are a number of H.323 and SIP clients out there that can reach the normal, public telephone network (PSTN) through gateways, and having the choice is fairly important to me. This is somewhat ironic, though, because I watch the iPod crush competition and increase market share all the time, and I’m a proud iPod owner and bigot myself. I say somewhat ironic because in the case of the iPod, it’s just so much better than the competition as an integrated system (with iTunes and the iTunes Music Store) that I haven’t really had to revisit my position on the question of which portable music player is best. On the other hand, Skype has some significant drawbacks; the proprietary bit is the biggest problem, in my mind, but the service prominently requires a credit card to buy outbound minutes (their SkypeOut service), and doesn’t support inbound dialing.

It’s safe to say that H.323 clients, while common and fairly ubiquitous (e.g. NetMeeting in most versions of Windows), are difficult to tunnel through a firewall, and public services based on H.323 are almost nonexistent. SIP services abound, however, and most of the larger providers offer at least some outbound PSTN connectivity. Some have direct inward dialing (DID) services in larger markets, as well. The main attraction here is that SIP is an Internet standard that’s supported by multiple service providers and multiple hardware vendors, including Vonage (you’ve seen their commercials recently, perhaps), AT&T, and Cisco. Companies that aim to make SIP work well regardless of the firewall environment, like Jasomi, are removing the end user complexity via technology at the service provider’s end.

I think I’ll wait to see if Skype actually achieves critical mass. The industry seems to be moving in a different direction.

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