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When it comes to voice chat online, Skype is the de facto choice. Indeed, ever since Microsoft released its latest version of Skype for Linux, it has become easier than ever to make voice over IP (VOIP) calls, video chat, and even use Skype’s collaboration tools.
However, Skype has a reliability problem. Even if you have a great internet connection, the client-server model of the Microsoft-owned Skype (as opposed to the pre-Microsoft peer-to-peer distribution) can cause problems.
Solutions to this are not great, but one that might work for you is to consider an alternative service. This is based on the fact that an alternative is likely to have fewer users, and thus more resources available to users. Let’s take a look at what is available.
Reasons to Abandon Skype
First, however, let’s consider why you might want to leave Skype. After all, it has 74 million users worldwide!
1. Call Quality
This has long been a problem. While Skype’s previous owner used a peer-to-peer solution (which hijacked other Skype users’ hardware), this became unworkable after it expanded onto mobile devices. Microsoft’s solution, as new owners, has been to move to a client-server dynamic, relying on the cloud. Unfortunately, this hasn’t helped call quality much, if at all.
2. High Resource Footprint
Disappointingly, Skype also has a surprisingly high footprint on your system. It’s not uncommon to find your CPU and RAM being overwhelmed by the VOIP tool during calls. While this might be expected in video conferencing and screen-sharing chats with multiple attendees, it’s not expected in standard voice chats. Yet it happens.
3. Not Open-Source
Many Linux users like to stick to open-source software. Skype isn’t open-source, and with plenty of alternatives that are, its presence on Linux is something of an anomaly. After all, Microsoft doesn’t produce a version of Office for Linux (although you can install it).
You can probably think of more reasons to abandon Skype. Here are four alternatives you might switch to.
An open-source VOIP solution, Linphone has been ported to Windows, macOS, Blackberry 10, Android, and iOS. This makes it an ideal solution for cross-platform inter-Linphone calls, and can be used for video and audio-only conferencing.
Also offering picture and file sharing, and the ability to hold and resume multiple calls, Linphone can even transfer calls to another account or device. While there is no screen sharing or whiteboard tool, Linphone on Linux (and other desktops) has integrated call recording. This works for audio-only calls as well as video conference. Linux users can enjoy Linphone on 32-bit, 64-bit, and ARM devices (including the Raspberry Pi).
For managing call quality, Linphone offers a low-bandwidth mode for 2G connections, a call quality indicator, and echo cancellation.
To install Linphone, you’ll need to use flatpak. Install it with:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:alexlarsson/flatpak
Next, update your repositories, and install flatpak.
sudo apt update sudo apt install flatpak
Once you’ve got that done, install Linphone.
flatpak --user install --from https://linphone.org/flatpak/linphone.flatpakref
Tap Y when prompted, then when done, launch with:
flatpak run com.belledonnecommunications.linphone
Linphone is one of just a handful of open-source alternatives to Skype that also happen to be more secure.
More widely used by gamers, Discord can nevertheless prove useful for voice chat in other situations. Discord offers a client for Linux (as well as Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS) but you can just as easily use it in your web browser.
100 percent free to use and offering low latency and minimal CPU use, this is pretty much the antithesis of Skype. Microsoft’s service increasingly pushes users towards paying for credits to call landlines, even if they don’t want to. Admittedly, Discord cannot be used for making calls beyond its network, but this is its only failing. By keeping its footprint low, Discord offers superior call quality to Skype.
To install Discord, simply head to the website and download the Linux installer file. You can also use the command line. Begin by switching to the Downloads folder, and downloading the DEB file with wget.
cd ~/Downloads wget -O discord-0.0.1.deb https://discordapp.com/api/download?platform=linux&format=deb
Then run dpkg to install:
sudo dpkg -i discord-0.0.1.deb
You can then run Discord from the desktop.
With over 45 million registered users (no, really, you read that right), Discord has added various features to make it more suited to chat and discussion away from online games. Such features include video chat and screen sharing, as explained above.
A lesser-known Skype alternative for Linux, Ekiga was formerly known as GnomeMeeting. This is an open-source SoftPhone, Video Conferencing and Instant Messenger client, offering HD sound quality and DVD-quality video.
With support for standard computer-to-computer VOIP along with calls to landlines and cellphones, Ekiga also supports hold, transfer and forwarding. Interestingly, it also has an SMS sending feature for messaging mobile devices. Note that Ekiga is also available for Windows, just in case you need to message someone on a Microsoft device!
Simply install Ekiga in the command line with:
sudo apt install ekiga
Note this will differ depending on your distribution, but ekiga is invariably the package name.
Call quality with Ekiga is good, but sadly it isn’t widely used. As with anything, it can be tricky to get people to start using it.
Finally, you might prefer to keep things totally browser-based, and move your voice chats to Google Hangouts. Offering instant messaging, video chat, SMS and VOIP features, Google Hangouts includes various features found in Google Voice.
As most Android smartphones ship with Google Hangouts pre-installed, and millions of people have a Google account, this is potentially the largest Skype alternative, regardless of your operating system. An unofficial standalone Hangouts app is available for Linux, called YakYak, which requires Node.js as a prerequisite. Find out more at the project’s GitHub page.
Meanwhile, be aware that other conferencing tools are now available from Google. Google Meet is intended for online video conference, and of course Google Voice is still there for voice-only chat.
If Hangouts is the route you choose, remember that you can do more than just chat with Google Hangouts.
How Do You VOIP?
With four strong alternatives to Skype, it seems that Microsoft has a challenge on its hands when it comes to Linux. Skype’s history on Linux has long been patchy, and if server performance issues can’t be dealt with, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the app abandoned again.
Have you tried any of these solutions, or do you prefer to just use your phone for making calls? Perhaps you have a specific use for Skype that won’t transfer to another service?
Image Credit: ArchManStocker/Depositphotos