The new and brave Skype for Linux ... calls, too


Updated: September 6, 2016

As it happens, Skype is one of the more popular IM/VoIP programs out there. It is also available for Linux, yay, but the not-for-Windows version has always lagged behind the original thing, leaving distro dancers in a bit of a techno lurch. Ladies and gentlefolks, not any more! Ta-dam!

Yo, Sherlock, there's a brand new edition out there. It's WebRTC-based, which is supposed to thrill you down to your bones if you happen to wear Star Trek or Star Wars themed shirts voluntarily, and it available for alpha testing on Linux, both in the DEB and RPM flavors. This means, Fedora, here we go. Let's see what gives, shall we?

Teaser

Skype me up

Finding the download link is a little convoluted. You have to go to a blog post, then to a forum, then to a special page where the two binaries are available. I was able to install the program without any issues on Fedora 24, and it co-exists nicely with the Skype 4.3 that is already installed on the system.

Install alpha version

About

The new interface is like coffee, all flat and white and all too happy, but it does the job. It looks polished and modern, it's fairly intuitive, and you can get around quite easily. The usual stuff works the same way it used to before. And I did not encounter any ads in this version yet. There might not be any perhaps? All in all, neat, plus it was stable, and the expected stuff worked. No excitement, which is a good sign really.

Main window

Conversation

The settings menu is still quite basic at the moment, and it has fewer options than the classic Skype 4.3 menu. But perhaps they are not needed just yet. I am curious. Well, this is alpha, so it is only expected that features would be missing and that they are going to be added at a later stage. We shall see.

Settings

Bots, bots, bots

I do not recall seeing the bots options before on Linux, but it is available now. Bots are modular plugins that you can invoke through the chat interface. Treat them as any other contact, but then you can utilize their functionality using special commands. I tried this with the Bing Music bot, and it worked fine.

I had it added to my contacts, started a conversation so to speak, and then searched for some music. Within seconds, it had offered me the official Youtube video for the artist and clip in question, Peter Gabriel of course, and it played the clip directly from within the Skype interface. Nice and clever. However, I do not know if this would work on a distro without proprietary codecs and plugins. I have not checked in detail how this works, but it would be interesting to see if Skype itself provides additional media functionality, otherwise its modus operandi might be crippled or unpredictable.

Bots

Bing Music bot playing

Chrome vs Firefox

Now, just like the popular movie Alien vs Predator, there's another element to this little game here. The WebRTC version also allows people that normally use the Web-based client, i.e. through the browser interface, to make calls, but ONLY in Chrome and/or Chromebooks. In other words, if you open web.skype.com, authenticate with your user name, you will see the difference between the two browsers. In Firefox, you cannot make any calls yet. But then, this is a beginning.

Chrome vs Firefox

More reading

Skype is no stranger to Dedoimedo. To wit, read and enjoy - or weep:

Skype 4 for Linux review - see how stuff has changed

A guide for fixing sound problems in Skype 4.3 on Linux

How to remove Skype ads, the new, updated guide

Conclusion

Here we are. This is a quick article, but it's got everything one needs for a pleasant afternoon of reading. Linux is no longer an afterthought for Microsoft, and the new version of Skype, albeit marketed at the mobile-happy audience of Chrome and Chromebook users, proves that to a point. Good news for the rest of us.

You may not like the modern, minimalistic interface, but I say, look beyond that. The software works fine, we get new features that were lacking previously, the alpha version is actually stable enough for testing, you have been warned, and you can even have a bit of fun with the bots. Happy times in the land of Penguin. Anyhow, keep your eyes peeled, and if you have an adventurer's soul, there's both a Debian and Red Hat version for early testing and exploring. Take care, children of the Internet.

Cheers.

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