Monday, 6 June 2011

Skype, open up, or i'll kick your ass!

Some russian guy has claimed that he sort of reverse-engineered the skype protocol. Sort of - because he didn't completely reverse it, and it is an old version of skype, which isn't compatible with modern skype versions. He says the goal is to make skype open-source.

Now, i understand the motives. I think the guy is doing the right thing. All the marketing bullshit Microsoft is trying to sell us (IP infringement, spamming/phishing/scamming concerns etc.) is worth nothing. Actually, it makes me wonder - why are we having these news in the first place? What's the problem with open-sourcing the protocol?

Everyone knows skype on Linux sucks balls and has been in 2.5 beta for the last two years. Hardly anyone believes that it will improve much because of Microsoft's aquisition of Skype, given Microsoft's stance towards free and open source software. Everyone knows that skype is doing their business not on the protocol itself, but on third-party agreements (skype-enabled phones) and Skype-out services. If anything, open-sourcing the protocol would enable it to spread even more.

A pecuiliar detail is that the guy doesn't seem to disclose how exactly did he get the de-obfuscated Skype binary and all that code from VEST corporation. From what he writes on his blog it almost looks like he stole the code and the binary files, wrote a couple of lines of code and published it as if he did the majority of it. Of course, he doesn't claim that he did all this, in fact, quite the opposite - he repeatedly makes it clear that he actually has not done much himself. This raises another question, particularly that of his moral right to call his findings a "research" when in fact 90% (or even more) of the work was not done by him, and supposedly was not acquired through legitimate ways. However, let's leave it be for now. Microsoft will most certainly try to combat these efforts, but if Samba guys managed to pull off the reverse-engineering of MS protocol - there's no reason why anyone else can't pull of a similar stunt with Skype.

I think the problem is not the skype protocol itself. The first possible answer is purely business-based. If the Open-Source community will reverse-engineer the Skype protocol and open-source it - what will be the point for third-party phone manufacturers to make an agreement with Skype when they can take an open-source client and incorporate it into their phones without paying Skype? That will surely hinder a chunk of Skype's revenue stream.

Another possible answer is that they fear that the guys would uncover something in the protocol that is not very pleasant for the public to know. I don't remember exactly where and when i read this, but i remember reading about some US laws actually requiring the telecom providers to leave the backdoor open for government agencies to eavesdrop on conversations.

Now, i was looking for an alternative to Skype for a long time. Since i use multiple OS's, something cross-platform would suit me best. And i remember why i stayed on Skype in the end. I couldn't care less about HD video calls, conferencing and skype-out - all of this is available in the Open-Source domain as well - Ekiga being a good example. The reason why i still use Skype despite all its deficiencies, despite it not being open and all, despite Linux version sucking big cock, despite recent Windows version being bloatware, despite its Android version being incomplete (no video calls, no SMS), despite Skype not being the cheapest VoIP service, is simple - its superior firewall and NAT penetration capabilities. I simply can't connect to SIP network using Ekiga, while Skype always works flawlessly.

However, if the Skype reverse engineering project achieves its goal, switching to Ekiga or any other VoIP/SIP provider might not be necessary.

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