Would open source have saved Skype?

Skype has been down, and blames an algorithm. It would be much better if it could credit a solution to open source, rather than taking on the burden of support completely alone.

Could open source have saved Skype from its ongoing disaster? Andy Oram @ O'Reilly believes so, and I think he's onto something. Open source is not a panacea. But it does offer an alternative way to fix snafus like this that are wreaking havoc on Skpe's reputation, as Larry Dignan notes.

Andy writes:

The company is inordinately secretive about the failure; one hopes they eventually open up a bit. All we know from their web site is that it blames the failure on "a deficiency in an algorithm within Skype networking software." Hence the relevance of the FSF's licenses.

I think the record of open source software shows that it gets fixed much more quickly than closed software. Among the millions of Skype users are thousands that would be happy to take a look at the login server's source code and suggest work-arounds or a redesign. I don't blame Skype for keeping the source code secret as part of their business plan, but perhaps they (and others) will start to look afresh at this advantage of free software.

Let's be clear: Skype would still be Skype even with its code available for review and improvement. Skype is Skype because of the service it offers, not its code. But when its hording of code gets in the way of its service...it has problems.

Problems that are giving it a black eye, in Larry's opinion:

Whether Skype?s outage was due to an exploit or an algorithm doesn't really matter. What matters is there were small businesses that actually depended on Skype and were let down. I?d certainly think twice before relying on Skype.

Could open source have saved Skype from this embarrassment? Maybe, maybe not. But because the company relies on peer-to-peer for the actual delivery of its service, but not for its code, we'll forever have to rely on the Skype company, which has shown that it isn't to be counted upon.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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