Skype has been in my communications toolbox for years. But no more. After my “Online Number” stopped accepting calls a short time ago I decided to cut my losses and cancel my subscription.
I’m not really sure how long my Online Number hasn’t worked. Back around 5 years ago it was the main contact number I gave out to my company’s Help Desk, which worked fine because I had it forward to my cell phone when I wasn’t actually logged into Skype. Over time my “real” cell number went viral over in Bangalore and that was the end of that.
A number of months ago I got this neat little Freetalk box that basically let me use my Skype number as a second “landline”. The thing plugged into a wall and had an RJ-11 cord to go into my desk phone’s second line jack and an RJ-45 connector that I could patch into the LAN switch on my desk. Voila! “Always on” Skype, without a computer! The only problem was that the box seemed to pick up a fair amount of A/C line noise, sometimes forcing me to drop off a call and come back in using the software client on my computer.
Anyway, except for the occasional business trip when I used it to keep up with the fam back home, or when working from home on a particularly heavy meeting day, I haven’t really used Skype all that much the last couple of years.
So when I discovered my Online Number hasn’t been working (except to receive phone spam from people trying to reach the former owner of the number), it seemed that the time was right to make a change.
Before cancelling my subscription I took a look at a couple of alternatives: Ekiga and Google Voice/Talk. The former, even after years of development, is still unpolished and couldn’t detect my audio and video hardware. The latter, much to my surprise, was easier to get setup and working on my Linux workstation than on the downstairs Windows 7 laptop (not really a surprise, actually: Dell and others have been using insanely proprietary hardware designs for years that make them not only incompatible with Linux but also with other Windows software — in my case the drivers for both video and audio subsystems are only marginally usable with 64-bit Windows and it’s doubtful I’ll ever get the G stuff to work with them, something that isn’t a problem on open source platforms so long as there’s someone out there who wants to make it work). Maybe some time in the future I’ll do a post on setting up Google Voice & Talk, although beyond installing the web browser plugin there really wasn’t much to it.
In any event I’m now free from Skype, and the (admittedly small) monthly drain on my credit card.
If anyone is interested in experimenting with a Freetalk box, drop me a line.
P.S.: All the major hardware retailers (HP, Dell, etc.) have been shooting themselves in the foot for years over the compatibility issue. I’d blame Microsoft, but the h/w guys are adults and should know the answer to the “if Johnny told you to drive off a cliff, would you?” question. As a result I’m seriously thinking of sourcing my next laptop from one of the Linux laptop boutiques. Serious sysadmins need serious computers. Being able to Twitter from my phone or watch movies in widescreen are simply not part of my personal technical spec.