Practical Alternatives to Skype (For Me)

(Before I start, I'd like to apologize for the lack of a "Featured Comments" post this week. I saw that there were comments on my article about Mozilla and the DHS, but I didn't have time to thoroughly read and respond to them immediately; by the time I did have time again, Blogger had temporarily shut down, and all the comments got erased. Once again, I apologize to all those who commented on that article and to those who wanted to read it but couldn't because of Blogger issues.)
Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Microsoft has just bought Skype for $8.5 billion. That's a lot of money! But the bigger issue is that it's Microsoft, and we know how Microsoft and interoperability go together (hint: they don't).
Microsoft has said that they are committed to maintaining the Skype program and services across all existing platforms for the foreseeable future. That means that I can use Skype on Linux Mint for at least a little while longer. However, that probably won't be the case forever. Why? Well, Microsoft hasn't released things like Microsoft Office for Linux, though it has released them for Apple's Mac OS X, which means the worst thing that could happen is that Skype is retained for Mac OS X but is dropped for Linux at some point.

As I use Skype quite frequently, this is bad news for me. I remember getting a few comments in my review of Trisquel 4.0.1 "Taranis" chastising me for using Skype, which is proprietary software. While I certainly do support the principles of free software, at the end of the day I want to get things done well. I'm using Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" because it's customizable, fast, secure, safe, and free, and it's certainly more customizable, fast, and secure than the comparable Microsoft Windows 7 installation I also have on my computer. Yet, I've retained that because I still do occasionally play some games that don't work in Linux. Similarly, I'm not going to stop using Skype just because it's proprietary; it works really well for me, and convincing my (often computer-averse) family and friends to switch to free software alternatives like Ekiga or Empathy is much easier said than done.

So why am I bringing up Ekiga and Empathy? Well, a lot of articles I saw in the Linux world suggested Ekiga, Empathy, and a few other similar free software VOIP clients as alternatives to Skype. I'm just saying right off the bat that those programs won't work for me because in all likelihood, my family and friends will be loath to switch just to talk to me. So I need other, more popular alternatives.

One is Google Chat with Voice & Video. This will certainly work because almost all of my Skype contacts also use Gmail, so it'll be easy to switch that way. Plus, it has worked flawlessly for me in Linux Mint.

The other that I can think of is the recently released AV by AIM. Basically, this is a free, in-browser VOIP client (with video capabilities too) that allows you to generate a link that you can share with up to 3 other friends to have a secure conversation without needing to install any extra software (other than Adobe Flash). I tried this last night, but because I don't have the very latest update of Adobe Flash 10.3, the website hung trying to detect my laptop's integrated webcam and mic. I'm guessing this is another of the Adobe Flash troubles similar to the one I had with Hulu, so I'll try AV by AIM again using a 32-bit live medium of a different distribution to see if Adobe Flash works well there.

Well, there you have it; these are the alternatives to Skype that I am currently considering, and these are things you can consider too. I hope you found this post helpful; I also hope to write (later in the week) about why there are so few successful free software projects that have come entirely from the community (maybe — don't hold your breath). I also plan to have at least 2 new distribution reviews out. Stay tuned!