Skype, the popular chat service known for its high video quality, has had a Linux port of its client around for several years. However, like a handful of other Linux ports, it isn’t quite the same client as you might find on Windows or Mac OS X.
Is the Linux port of Skype still a functional application, or is it in need of some tender loving care by its developers? Let’s take a look.
When you first download Skype for Linux, you’ll notice that the version is 4.2 (which means it’s finally out of its “beta” phase), which is already quite a few versions behind the Windows counterpart. Numbers may just be numbers, but you’ll notice the difference whenever you first open up the application.
The application is overall pretty basic, where the contact list takes up most of the space. The interface is rather bare, and it also uses very old toolkit – unlike most Linux applications today, Skype won’t necessarily conform to your theme – for example, in Ubuntu, none of the menu options “glow” orange like everything else does. In fact, there haven’t been many updates to the program besides a quick wave of fixes when Microsoft took over. These quick fixes mostly kept the software working: for example, a recent update means there is support for logging in via your Microsoft account rather than a Skype one.
Having a conversation with someone uses a similarly bare window with just a few features. The client is advanced enough to have animating emoticons (although that setting is disabled by default), but even these aren’t kept up to date relative to the Windows version.
The biggest issue that Skype has is with its audio implementation. Although it can correctly recognize that most Linux systems use the PulseAudio server, it does a terrible job communicating with it. Audio problems I’ve experienced with Skype include distorted sounds (including both the startup sound and voice calls) as well as a nonfunctional microphone. These problems occur more frequently than my liking, and I know it isn’t just Linux itself or my hardware: Google Hangouts works flawlessly.
If you go through the settings, you’ll find a similar set of items to configure compared to Windows, and also some that are Linux appropriate. They are arranged like they were in older versions of Skype for Windows, which is acceptable. I prefer this more than how the Windows 8.1 app does it, thou
Again, the point I’m trying to make here is not necessarily to give a tour of Skype for Linux, but rather to show the differences between the different versions. And as you can see, the differences are quite large. Is Skype still a functional client? If it didn’t have the occasional audio issues, then I’d say yes. However, compared to the Windows counterpart, it is seriously lacking. So, while it works (most of the time), it definitely needs to be overhauled to become a great, functional application again.
However, since Microsoft isn’t very fond of Linux, I doubt that would happen anytime soon. In fact, I doubt it so much that I’d just recommend using Google Hangouts from here on out if you don’t already. It simply works a lot better, lets you do group video calls, and gets updated regularly. That, or check out 5 other alternatives to Skype (where Ekiga and Google are the only Linux-friendly alternatives on the list). However, if you are having luck with Skype and would like to stick with it despite its downsides, you can also use a Skype wrapper if you’re using Ubuntu for better desktop integration – but that’s only a skin-deep improvement. It won’t help with audio problems.
What’s your favorite video chat program for Linux? Do you have any hope that Microsoft will overhaul the Linux port? Let us know in the comments!