Why Microsoft’s revival of Skype for Linux is a big deal

As Linus Torvalds once said, “If Microsoft ever does applications for Linux it means I've won.”

Around two weeks ago Microsoft surprised the Linux community by announcing a brand new Skype client for Linux. It was a surprise because Skype on Linux was in a holding pattern for a very long time.

A brief history of Skype on Linux

Before being acquired by Microsoft, Skype was the default VOIP solution on Linux. At one point, Canonical featured Skype on its official website.

After the acquisition, Microsoft filed for patents that would allow the company to secretly intercept Skype calls. Security experts expressed their concerns around Microsoft’s spying capabilities through Skype. Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and the author of GNU GPL licence also advised users to not use Skype, citing changes the company made to Skype.

But the real issue was that work on the Skype Linux client almost came to a halt. Skype simply ceased to exist for many Linux users.

A new day

Under Satya Nadella's leadership, Microsoft started embracing and adopting Linux in its own products.

Linux users were understandably skeptical, as it was clear that Microsoft was benefitting from Linux, but it was very much a one-way street. Many, myself included, wondered why, despite Microsoft's professed love for Linux, Skype was being neglected, why there was no Microsoft Office for Linux.

Then, two weeks ago, Microsoft announced it was bringing a brand new Skype client to Linux and released an alpha version that is continuously getting updates.

It's worth noting that Microsoft is using open source WebRTC to power Skype for Linux. (And it's not just Linux where Microsoft is using open source technologies. Microsoft is using ORTC to power Skype for web, Outlook and Office Web Apps using the new Edge browser.) WebRTC ensures that work on the Skype client for Linux will continue for a long time to come.

I tested the alpha release of Skype on Ubuntu and it worked nearly flawlessly. I was able to make phone and video calls to my iPad running Skype. The only issue that I came across was when I tried to make calls to older an older Linux client of Skype running on my Arch Linux system. In researching the problem, I found a Microsoft blog post where they say it’s not possible to make calls to the older client for Linux.

Torvalds has won

As Linus Torvalds once said, “If Microsoft ever does applications for Linux it means I've won.”

The sudden arrival of Skype on Linux clearly shows that Microsoft isn't neglecting Linux as a platform. Does that mean there is a possibility of Microsoft Word for Linux? I won’t rule it out. After all, you can already run Office 365 on Linux using a browser.

It's time to declare victory.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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