Skype to open-source far too little

Internet phone company plans to open-source only the graphical user interface for its Linux client, which could burn the company's bridges with the open-source community.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

"Skype is going open source!" screamed the headlines over the weekend. If only.

While Skype has acknowledged an interest in making its Linux client open-source, this may not mean very much in practice.

I love Skype and use it daily for both instant messaging and voice calls. Its quality is superb and the Skype team continues to enrich Skype's functionality (now including the ability to screen-share and video chat).

We've decided to open-source this logo.

Open source won't help with this. Not in the way Skype means.

As ZDNet captures, Skype isn't planning to open-source its underlying protocols, and certainly not its back-room server technology. Instead, it's just talking about open-sourcing the Skype graphical user interface (GUI). And only for its Linux client, apparently.


First of all, why only Linux? Open source long ago stopped being the exclusive province of Linux, if it ever was. Without Mac OS X and Windows support, Skype is actually locking itself out of the vast majority of the market for software developers.

And then there's the question of what is being open-sourced: GUI code? Really? That's it? No protocols? Does Skype think developers simply want to add fuzzy dice to the UI?

It's not really Skype's fault, as ZDNet explains, because its source code is in legal no man's land right now. You can't open what you don't own.

But maybe it doesn't matter. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols believes an open-source Skype is unnecessary, given that there are credible open-source alternatives that are already available. Perhaps. But they lack the adoption that Skype has, and in communication the network is everything.

But, again, this is probably the biggest reason to yawn at the news of a Linux-based Skype GUI being open-sourced. The magic of Skype is not in the client. It's in the cloud/server, and that's remaining closed because, as TechCrunch posits, Skype doesn't want its competitors to free-ride on its services.

In sum, despite the euphoric greeting of the news of Skype going open-source, there's actually very little to celebrate. This isn't good for developers, and it's not good for Skype. In open source, it's generally worse to contribute too little than too much, because the community's first (negative or positive) impression tends to last a very long time.