Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype leaves internet users with no real alternatives should Microsoft’s plans for the online service provider clash with how they choose to use it.
Yesterday, the iTnews editor asked me to come up with a list of five alternatives to Skype – but the startling reality is that after scrutinizing a long list of clients, I couldn’t find a single program that does everything Skype does.
There’s a reason Skype is the dominant player in the market, and according to researchers TeleGeography, the largest provider of international calls in the world.
Skype is free to download and to use for voice and video calls as well as instant messages between its users. However, Skype also offers a convenient way to pre-pay for voice minutes for calling normal PSTN landlines and mobile phones around the world and it can also be used to send SMS messages and for sharing files.
What’s more, Skype doesn’t require the level of technical expertise setting up session initiation protocol (SIP)-based VoIP clients do, and it is able to bypass most firewalls. Skype also protects calls with strong encryption over its proprietary network protocol.
It is also available on a broad range of platforms. Presently, Skype has clients for Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS X and Linux desktops. However, Skype also runs on iPhones, Android devices and Windows Mobile 6.x.
The closest competitor in terms of feature-for-feature functionality was Gizmo, a service purchased by Google.
In 2005, Google purchased VoIP provider GrandCentral. Shortly after, GrandCentral was rebranded as Google Voice to offer a similar service to Skype. With the acquisition of Gizmo5, Google added the ability to make VoIP calls over SIP too.
However, while Google has 1.5 million users on the service, Google Voice hasn’t made it out of North America. iTnews has asked Google’s Australian office if the Voice service would be available in the region at any point, but the company declined to provide any information.
Bundled clients like Google Talk, iChat and MSN/Windows Live Messenger offer some of the features of Skype, but they cannot be used to make PSTN calls and can’t replicate the experience.
The combination of large user numbers, multi-platform clients and an integrated, easy to use experience with PSTN/mobile calling and SMS– all for a free download – make Skype hard to replace with a single program.
And this is may be what Microsoft is willing to pay in the region of US$11 a head for.
For those curious, I used the following criteria to seek a Skype alternative:
- Free to download
- Easy to use
- Secure encryption
- Wide uptake or standardised protocol
- Chat, video and voice
- File sharing
- PSTN calling
- Multi-platform support
Have you used an adequate alternative to Skype? Share your experiences below.