Yes, despite my rant as to how I thought Microsoft would treat Skype for Linux, Microsoft made me eat my own skeptical words. They not only didn't kill off the Linux Skype client, they also updated it with some minor bug fixes and a bit of a UI makeover as well. Sadly, though, Microsoft hasn't yet offered the same group video conferencing functionality that is found on the Windows Skype client.
Now I've had plenty of opportunity to play with the new Skype 4.0 release and I have to be honest, I haven't noticed any changes. Outside of the obvious user interface improvements, the release itself was kind of a let down. While I was thrilled to see that my ability to video chat with friends is still being supported without using a web browser (such as Gmail Video Chat), I was hoping to see some new features included.
In addition to the lack of group video calling, I was disappointed to see Skype's 64-bit Linux support for Ubuntu was a bit spotty. Not that IÅfm complaining, however it seems that integration into the top panel for Ubuntu users is limited to 32-bit users only.
This means I have to lock in my Skype client to the launcher, should I wish to leave it available when it's not in use. Another interesting thing I noticed is that Skype is now suggesting that we use PulseAudio Control. It's a suggestion I agree with, as Ubuntu sound settings are useless if you run a USB headset along side of a standard sound card.
With the standard Ubuntu sound settings, even setting the input to the USB headset is meaningless with any VoIP software, as the application still goes straight to the installed sound card instead. PulseAudio Control simply works more reliability.
That’s not an opinion, rather a fact that IÅfve confirmed release after release of Ubuntu since Pulse Audio was introduced. This affects Ekiga and Jitsi as well, not just Skype. It's a flaw in the Ubuntu sound manager _ its controls for toggling application-specific input controls offer a volume slider only.
And the winner is....
I am gritting my teeth with each keystroke, however the fact remains that Skype easily wins this round for desktop installed VoIP clients. They have the user adoption across the various platforms, basic feature set we need, and now it seems that updates are finally being taken more seriously.
A year from now, my findings may shift. Should Microsoft start serving advertisements or Google finally gets off their butt and releases Gtalk w/video for Linux users, I may finally be able to point to a viable alternative.
As much as Jitsi, among other soft-phones warm my heart, the sad fact is that they're still in beta. Skype, as of this month, has finally graduated to something ready for the mainstream on the Linux desktop.
Let's hope Google is waking up from their slumber and is ready to stop forcing us to use our email clients to have video conversations. Because unless Jitsi gains huge mainstream market awareness, Google is the best competition to Microsoft in the VoIP/video chat space right now.