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Corporate IT Won't Run Linux Desktops Because of the 'Skype Attitude'

Linux - developed with more professionalism than shown by most commercial software vendors, but still shunned by them.

Ubuntu Linux Journal on Ulitzer

Skype is not a small product or small company. Their VOIP product is used by millions of people every day (it currently tells me that 20,944,942 people are online), and carries more international phone calls than AT&T. Skype's attitude to Linux desktop users is frankly disturbing. Take a look at the chart of software issues for the Skype client:

76% of issues in the JIRA database are new. Compare this with the Windows client, where 21% of issues are new. It seems that Skype is truly uninterested in their Linux user base, expending minimal or no resources on it. Even if you take into account that the Linux client is several steps back from the Windows version and the development team is apparently working on a new version, the number of open issues is still worrying (they claim to be in a late Beta stage, but audio does not work with a large proportion of modern OS versions and there is no timeline to fix it). So, Lesson #1, DON'T INSTALL A BETA VERSION OF SKYPE IF YOU WANT TO CALL PEOPLE!

Lesson #2 ties in closely with Lesson #1, and really highlights Skype's contempt for its Linux user base, and worse, new customers. If go to install Skype from the corporate website, as a new Windows or Mac user you are taken to a page where you can download and install the latest stable version of the product. Linux customers beware: you are taken to a download page for the Beta version of the client - remember this is the one with audio that does not work with the recommended audio configuration of many common Linux distros such as Ubuntu. You have no option of installing the latest production version of the product. Even as a paying Skype customer, buying telephone call credit you do not have access to a production version of the product. So good luck if you try the Beta, find it doesn't work and want to roll back. You can't, because Skype has removed all links to the production version of the software. You are just left with software that doesn't allow you to make phone calls. As a note, I have raised issues with the development team, Skype support team and attempted to reach the Product Manager. For months. No pleasant surprises unfortunately.

So why is the Skype attitude to Linux users so lousy? Now, let's use the common assumption that Linux desktops account for at least 1% of desktop deployments. This suggests that the number of Skype users online at any time, running a Linux desktop is 200,000. No small number, though still only 1% of the overall user base. Or 1% of Skype's income of $550m in 2008, which means only $5.5m. Linux customers are not worth the effort. Skype is probably regretting ever putting a Linux version out in the wild (because now they have to support and update it), and are scared of the Linux community's attitude that would prefer they publish libraries that can be used to produce open source clients separate from the snails paced development Skype does with the proprietary client. Its hard to reconcile the open source concept into such a proprietary company.

It appears that in Skype's mind, all Linux users are potential Beta testers of their software. We all want to suffer software failures and issues. We also apparently want no way to ever recover from them, unless we follow Skype's unknown and unpublished roadmap. This is the attitude to the Linux desktop of a large commercial software provider. Maybe this helps us understand why corporate IT is so reluctant about installing Linux desktops - even if they don't want Skype on their networks, they can't trust a highly visible commercial company to write Linux software that works and manage it professionally, so what hope is there of trusting free, open source organizations from doing the right thing?

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Phil Ayres is the founder of Consected, providing SaaS workflow to companies that want to improve their business processes immediately, not after an expensive software implementation project. Companies that work with Consected benefit from Phil's direct experience helping organizations meet their business goals through the use of innovative process and content management solutions.