Software: Gripe about Skype

Level: Geek 0 {all readers, little to no techie speak}

In today’s world of social networking and in-your-face type telecommunications, Skype™ has become a staple in many households. What also has become a staple is an everyday ‘Gripe about Skype.’ (I just had to reuse my snappy title somewhere.)  Trust me, I feel your pain. This entire post is going to be ‘me’ picking-a-bone with Skype™.

Skype™, oh my dear Skype™, why must you crash-on-thee?!

Skype Version 1.0
Skype Version 1.0

Let me begin by giving a very quick and condensed, historical, overview of the cool voice-over-ip application we call Skype™. Skype™ was developed as a side project years before its initial release in 2003. Developers Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu and Jaan Tallinn, also the creators of the peer-to-peer application, we all grew to know and love, Kazaa (remember those days of free movies and song at the click of a button?). They created their “Sky peer-to-peer” application in their spare time. If finally became “Skype™”, as we know it today, before their initial release in 2003. The unique thing about Skype is that is not a traditional Client (user’s

Skype Version 2.0
Skype Version 2.0

machine) to Server type application like AOL Instant Messenger, messenger clones, and some of the other VOIP services. It uses Peer-to-Peer methods of moving a lot of the processing and crunching of data to your, and others, machines. Why not, right?! Easy start-up costs for a business, because they don’t have to buy large processing server farms to deploy their app, plus it makes for a more direct, and more secure, communication style. The concept of “using the power of the masses, or the many” is not a new concept in the world of computing.Even so, the first versions of Skype™ were written in an old-school programming language called Pascal. Years later it moved to many of the other modern languages of our day. Version 2.0 was revolutionary for the application. Not only did it have a good app design, but also added Video calling!

My first question to the masses is, “What happened to Skype™?” It used to be a clean and stable program that you could trust for your free global communications!

For me, this question was first asked with versions 3.8 to 4.0 of Skype™. This is when it débuted brand new versions for Windows and Mac introducing new video compression algorithms and other enhancements.The user interface however was a step-up for me.The new user interface was clean, concise, to the point and without nasty ads and pop-ups.

Could Skype be a victim of a hostile takeover from a large software company that feels the need to change everything in order to give it more appeal? I think so! (e.g. eBay purchasing it in 2005, to a consortium of Index Ventures and Silver Lake Partners years later) I have seen it before! The old ‘Big business buys small business, after gaining a loyal and happy customer/user base, and tries to “bring it to the masses.”’  That’s business, right?! WRONG! What is wrong with keeping the “Original version of Skype” and creating “New Enhanced versions of Skype?” I betcha-bottom-dollar that people would use “The Original” more than the “Enhanced” version! People want simple and clean, where all the complexity is abstracted away from them. Google+, a new social networking system, like Facebook, constructed their interface design to be very clean and straight to the point with the center of navigation being search. People want fast, easy, and without clutter and enhancements.

This brings us to Version 5.5 now in Beta. Not only does it have problems connecting to the previous version of Skype™ but it also gets itself into an infinite loop of redialing your fellow patrons. You have to kill the process to get it to stop. It’s a lot of “fun” I will tell you that! Version 5.0, just released, has changed the user interface (UI) for the worse. People are lost and don’t know where to click. Ad’s, pop-ups, and dialog windows show-up where they didn’t before. It is an all-around thumbs down on the upgrade.

Over my many years of developing software and running businesses I have learned several things about products and how customers perceive your products. During that time, one of the software products I worked on had many years behind it already. When I started on it the team wanted to breathe new life into it, but didn’t want to lose any functionality or its robustness. The first step they took was not only the right one, but it also helped me to gain amazing respect for the architects of the engineering plan. They decided to walk through the entire code base and reorganize into base/required platform code and separate added features. The features became the second-hand citizens. It was the same code, just organized differently. This allowed them to test the base platform and ensure its stability, and it also allowed them to add features to it without causing issues with the base functionality. I am going to take a wild guess and say Skype™ didn’t do this with their new versions.

Someday software companies will learn the staples of product. A good stable base makes for easy innovation and simple, clean, and fast user interfaces makes for happy customers. Let’s hope they learn before it is too late.

Will Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype bring it back to its roots, or will it find itself shoved into their version of a horrible voip instant messenger Lync (Communicator) in order to “Bring it to the masses”? I bet you can guess!

Until next time!

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One comment

  1. Michael Waters · June 30, 2011

    It really is amazing to see the regressive evolution of Skype. Since version 2.0 for me, I found myself not being able to travel with out it. Now, on Version 5, I cringe when I have to connect to a conference. My audio works 5 out of 10 times.

    I agree with you about software systems. Companies, and/or investors, decide to purchase software that has a loyal following only to throw hundreds of people at it to try and , as you say, “bring it to the masses.” What is wrong with corporations? Adding features is something all software does, but I agree core functionality should be kept as an option for all consumers.

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