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Microsoft Issues Early Version of Skype for Linux Client

Microsoft unveiled an "alpha" version of a new Skype for Linux client for consumer users on Wednesday.

This client, which uses WebRTC technology for Web browsers, is being piloted as an eventual replacement for the current dedicated Skype for Linux 4.3 client software. The alpha can be downloaded from Microsoft's Skype community page here, although it's just for Chrome browsers and Chromebooks right now.

Limitations
It's an alpha, with clear limitations. Using the alpha client will be problematic if the user is trying to connect with a Skype for Linux 4.3 user, according to Microsoft's announcement:

You will notice that with the Alpha version of Skype for Linux, which uses our next generation calling architecture, you will be able to call your friends and family on the latest versions of Skype on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, but you won't be able to make or receive calls to and from the previous versions of Skype for Linux (4.3.0.37).

If a user of the Skype for Linux alpha initiates a Skype call with another party, the person on the receiving end needs to have the right client. Acceptable clients right now include "Mac 7.26, Android 6.31, Windows 7.24, Skype for Web, and iOS 6.15," according to Microsoft's FAQ on the topic.

The alpha is just available worldwide in English as a 64-bit release. And it really is an alpha. It can't do basic things that the current Linux client can handle. For instance, there are no public switched telephone network connections. The messaging service doesn't work. It also lacks one-to-one video calling. Microsoft, though, is promising updates "every couple of weeks" that may address these shortcomings.

The RTC Future
Microsoft communications efforts are converging on using Web-based technologies, including WebRTC and Object Real-Time Communication (ORTC). WebRTC is an effort shepherded by the Worldwide Web Consortium and the Internet Engineering Task Force to enable real-time communications in browsers without having to use browser plug-ins. ORTC is a parallel effort using JavaScript and HTML5 for the APIs that perhaps will merge with the WebRTC effort, according to an ORTC FAQ.

Microsoft, for its part, indicated in April that it has been building support for both real-time communications technologies, both WebRTC and ORTC, in its Edge browser. Also around that time, Microsoft announced that that this ORTC technology in Edge was providing support for "Skype for Web, Outlook.com, Office Online and OneDrive" for real-time "voice, video and group video calling."

Skype for Linux users may be on a path to losing dedicated client software, but it's part of a general trend, per Microsoft's FAQ:

Up until now, Skype has built individual versions of Skype for different operating systems and devices. This is changing. In the last 12 months we have been testing our web-based platform meaning that users can make Skype calls without needing to install a plugin. We are making it quicker and easier than ever before to connect with friends and family -- directly from Skype.com.

The FAQ added that Microsoft is committed to supporting Linux on Skype, which was described as "very important."

Despite the word, "Linux," being used, the Skype for Linux alpha release isn't built on open source code. Microsoft so far has tested its alpha release on Fedora 23, Ubuntu Gnome 16.04, Ubuntu 16.04, OpenSuse KDE 13.2, Debian 8.5 and OpenSuse Leap 42.1 KDE operating systems, according to the FAQ.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.