nullstream weblog - Skype

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July 15, 2005 02:33 PM PST

SkypeI've been using Skype for a while now with a $6 headset from It's a free p2p phone service that includes IM and file transfer features. You can also make calls from your computer to a regular phone number using a feature called SkypeOut. The per-minute rates to most countries are extremely low, and the sound quality is quite good.

The three issues I found were the first time I installed the software, I got an incoming ring while I was going through the install wizard. My CPU pegged to 100% and it took several minutes just to get task manager up to kill it. Since then it's been fine. In general, though, it takes a lot of cpu, maybe a minimum of 450mhz if you're doing nothing else. The second issue is that Skype often shows your friends as offline, when they are actually online. It's so bad that I just use messenger to see if people are online and then ring them up on skype (which still works if they appear offline). They can send voice data halfway around the world, but apparently can't synchronize presence data. The third annoyance is that they seem to come out with at least one new version a week, and some break compatibility with users who arent up-to-the-minute. It makes me nervous they have to update the code so often.

A tip: the voice quality (especially for multi-person conference calls) depends on who initiates and adds people to the call. The conference initiator should have the highest (upstream) bandwidth.

Overall Skype has better quality than older solutions such as Roger Wilco, or XBox Live, and it traverses NAT and firewalls well. I have yet to try it while playing an online game, but for voice chat it works really well. Also, I should mention that although it's by the developers of KaZaA, it does not contain spyware (seems they've found a viable business model that doesn't revolve around that junk).

Here's an interesting article on Skype which also has choice words from their main competitor, Vonage:

Vonage CEO Jeffrey Citron says the pricing models are different because the products themselves are different. In fact, Citron labels Skype an “ancillary service” and not a direct competitor. “Skype says it themselves, they are not a replacement for your home telephone -- they are an ancillary communication service.
Basically Vonage is just pissed because someone came along and developed a very attractive free version of their product. Vonage wants to charge $25 per month minimum, just like your local phone company. If anything, I'd say that a company getting into home phone service is ancilliary to what's really happening - people replacing their land lines with cellular. Finally, Skype is working with hardware vendors on phones, and is currently betaing their SkypeIn service where you can get one or more physical phone numbers for your account, to allow incoming as well as outoging calls through the phone system. So they are competing directly with Vonage - and winning.

Comments (13)

Paul, July 15, 2005 02:46 PM:

When I moved to San Francisco, I didn't get a normal phone line, I just use my cell. Why bother paying the $30/mo for an extra phone when I'm hardly at home? I can see people using Skype when they're in front of a PC, and their cells for everything else.

J, July 15, 2005 02:55 PM:

Yes, exactly. Cell is the way to go for most cases (although the pricing plans are ridiculously complex, and the walled gardens stifle innovation).

Skype is nice because you can actually get a telephone number and voicemail through them. You could be anywhere in the world, and still check your voicemail or receive (pre-scheduled) calls via internet cafe. Seems like a great way to keep in touch when international rates are too expensive, or you're in a country where your cell phone doesn't work.

Another place VoIP in general will take off is with the new online media systems like Xbox360. I know so many people who would watch shows on their TV while simultaneously chat with their friends on Live.

Paul, July 18, 2005 09:50 PM:

So, I installed it yesterday, but it constantly tries to put itself in my startup programs (i.e. everytime Windows starts or I login). I specifically told it not to do this, yet everytime I launch it, it defaults back to "Run this program when Windows starts?". I uncheck the box, and connect. The next thing I see is Microsoft's anti-spyware telling me that it blocked Skype from inserting itself into my start up programs!

I now remember why I didn't install this program sooner: it's made by the "former" spyware gurus Kazaa. There has got to be a better vendor for VoIP than this...

J, July 18, 2005 10:09 PM:

The version I'm running at work doesn't have this problem. However, I noticed that the latest version I installed at home did start up without me telling it to. I think it must be a bug in the latest, I haven't see this problem before.

I'm not that confident in their code quality. They are always fixing bugs and people have lots of strange issues on the forums. But, the quality seems pretty good when you get it going. I only fire it up when I'm going to make a call, and use messenger to coordinate. Basically they got the key problem right (voice comms), but hosed it up by adding a bunch of junk to the app. Remember KaZaA Lite? They need Skype Lite.

Paul, July 19, 2005 04:57 PM:

And another problem I have is that I really hate the default sounds that Skype uses. They're twice as loud as any other sound on my system and just nasty. When I point it to a wav file to use instead, it won't play it.

J, July 20, 2005 10:06 AM:

Along those lines, it seems really strange to me that Skype has no volume control (that I see). I have to turn my speakers way up to hear, but then any other machine beep or incoming email just blows me away.

GW, July 28, 2005 02:35 PM:

They are coming out with a nice dual use wireless phone. A little on the spendy side but it is dual use.

Tom's Hardware: Olympia Cordless DualPhone for Skype

Paul, August 3, 2005 11:43 PM:

Skype update: I've uninstalled it... with extreme prejudice. The sound levels for its ring tones are about 100x the regular volume, it won't play sound files I tell it to, regular disconnects, it automatically starts up at login, even though I explicitly tell it not too (and gets around MS spyware blocker), it keeps re-selecting options that I de-select (like remember password) each time I run it. This thing is just bad news, and coming from a former spyware vendor, I'm done with it.

I can't remember when I've had such a visceral reaction to a piece of software... oh, now I do: RealPlayer.

May the eventual competition lay these shit-stabbers to rest.

GW, September 27, 2005 11:38 AM:

I'm wasn't aware of this but Skype truly is P2P and uses the peers to route calls even when you're not using it. So, your bandwidth is still being used.

J, September 27, 2005 11:54 AM:

Interesting article. Thanks for pointing it out. Skype IS by the same guys that did a spyware ridden Kazaa. I'm not sure about some of the article claims, for example, when I quit skype, the process seems to go away (maybe it's running as a service though). And I would imagine that behind a firewall or home router, my system is not acting like a relay for other calls. Still, Skype does insist on installing itself as a startup item even after I tell it not to, so it's doing something shady. There is also a lot of speculation about their encryption since they aren't telling anyone what they're actually doing to encrypt the voice data.

I've tried Google Talk overseas, and it seems to work quite well. Less echo than Skype, and much less cpu and memory usage. The only issue is that is supports only one person in a call or IM at a time, which is limiting compared to Skype or Messenger.

The one thing I like about Skype is SkypeOut. The quality to call to an overseas phone is great, and very cheap. So while it has its uses, I'm leaving it off unless I need to make an outbound call.

I think eBay paid a little too much for this questionable technology. Not sure the userbase is worth it.

Wheelson, October 31, 2005 04:20 PM:

I'm trying this with the SkypeIn service. As I look at my QWest bill I see that it is %40 taxes and additional charges. %40! So my $13 phone line turns into $30 because I also have caller ID which is a must so I don't waste my time answering calls I don't want to take. I'd kill the line except I like to keep around a "whipping boy" phone number sort of like what I use my free email accounts for.

Well SkypeIn to the rescue. I don't really need to use the Skype service at all. That's because I never want to actually answer a call made to my skype in number. I'll just always let it go to voicemail (which comes free with the SkypeIn number). Then with the Pamela plug in I can have my voice mail e-mailed to me. So, I'll run skype on my whipping boy file server laptop that runs in the closet at home along with Pamela and I'll never have to actually use Skype on my precious laptop.

If this works I think I'll be rid of QWest for good!

Paul, October 31, 2005 05:34 PM:

Good plan. I haven't had a phone line in over 1.5 years now. Cable modem + cell phone.

John, October 31, 2005 11:37 PM:

Well my Verizon line has been going out every couple of days for the last few weeks. Its been out all day today. So I practicaly don't have a phone line. It looks like it is time for me to look for an alternative also.

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