The Skype application provides an outstanding VoIP client for Linux users, among other popular platforms. This VoIP software does it all, from clear telephony to live streaming video. So despite ready access to other comparable open source alternatives such as Ekiga (available for both Linux and Windows), most people using a VoIP client in their homes on Linux are clinging tightly to Skype.
Even though a comparable open source alternative oddly named "Ekiga" is installed by default with Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, most users wanting a VoIP client will reach for Skype every time. Many of these individuals do not care how Skype is licensed. All they know is that this is what everyone is already using on other platforms.
In addition, Skype can be run on nearly every platform you can think of. Ekiga, on the other hand, was first created for Linux and later for Windows. OS X users are left out in the cold.
Understanding that Skype provides its users with a sense of consistency is the key factor. Coming to grips with this is to better understand why more people will not bother to research open source alternatives such as Ekiga. The Ekiga option perhaps provides more "choice" than most people are looking for. Ekiga supports SIP, among other protocols, whereas Skype supports its own protocol period. Based on user numbers, possibly due to marketing, Skype users really do not care about the type of VoIP protocol being used for their communications.
Staying the "open course."
It is important to realize as you read this that this is not an attack on Linux or on open source in any way. Instead consider this as more of a wake-up call with regard to software usability and availability.
I would love to see each challenge presented to the Linux platform tackled head on by open source software whenever possible. However, when you live in a world of patented MP3s, encrypted DVDs, 3D-accelerated ready driver modules, and a wrapper for closed source Windows wireless drivers, you soon realize that closed source remains very real regardless of which OS platform you happen to use each day.
And there's the rub. If there is enough perceived value in a closed source application on a given OS platform, users will pay for it happily.
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of users buying closed source software for Linux would have to be one specific video editing application. A now discontinued application known as MainActor provided a significant benefit to Linux users tired of being limited to half-working open source alternatives like KDENLive.
For the average user, it was the path of least resistance. It allowed users at all skills levels to edit video in a way that would be both sane and user friendly. So even though there were open source alternatives as this app debuted, they were either not intuitive enough to meet the needs of the Linux masses, or instead, were seen as simply being too unstable for serious use.
Is closed source code a threat to today's Linux distributions?
When wrapping your mind around the issue of closed source in the Linux desktop, one thing to bear in mind is that the Linux kernel itself will remain pure, and contrary to common belief, is not under attack.
This means that no proprietary code will suddenly start showing up at the highest levels of kernel development, thus suddenly violating Linux as we know it. There can never truly be a real threat to Linux as we know it.
The most important piece of code that makes up the operating system has safeguards in place to ensure that it will never cross streams with code that is not licensed with an open source license. This is not to say that some distributions do not take the vanilla kernel and add what they see fit to it. But that has absolutely no effect on those who choose not to use those distributions.
Yet at the end of the day, closed source code is here to stay. As Linux users, for most of us, it is part of our daily lives at some basic level. And yes, it is a fairly significant part of the existing desktop Linux universe that fact is hard to deny. How we react to this fact, however, is something that each Linux user will have to wrestle with themselves.
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