One of the apps that’s becoming slowly more and more important is VoIP. It may have had a “slow burn” start, but in recent months has started to take off. Much of this popularity has been due to Skype. They have a prduct that fits the simplicity most people want. It may be a closed source system, be primarily windows oriented, but it’s so easy to use it has alot of fans. It’s the single app that has got my father spending time using a computer after all these years. That sort of power is quite something to behold.
Sadly though, if the future of VoIP is Skype, then it’s a dark future for many of us. Their system is closed source and development on all but windows seems to have ground to a halt. The system doesn’t “play well with others” unless it’s one of the conventional phone networks and you’ve paid money to Skype for the privilege. This isn’t the nirvana that VoIP promised to deliver. What’s needed is an open standard that allows easy and wide ranging connectivity with an ease of use that will make skype look complex.
I’m not alone in thinking this and there are numerous standards out there trying to stake their place. The problem is that none of them are close enough to Skype in numbers or ease of use. Getting a SIP account is easy, but how do I use it to call others on different networks? SIP isn’t supposed to care about networks after all, but those running the networks seem to.
Apple provide iChat as part of the OS, Gnome provides GnomeMeeting and Microsoft have MSN, all with varying degrees of usability and a lack of interoperability that’s frustrating. The third party apps all share similar problems. By positioning itself as an early player Skype has accumulated a huge user base, one that no single competitor will now be able to match in the short term in isolation. Together they may be able to compete, but they have to overcome the isolationist tendancies they all show. Until they do Skype will remain the main player and anyone not on windows will suffer.