Since Alexander Graham Bell shared his unbridled excitement with Watson, telephony has come a long way. From the short-range telephone right up to mobile phone which has now become an extension of our personalities, telephony is one technology that has evolved rapidly through the past few decades.
Certain aspects have not developed at quite the same pace though. Skype for Linux has been one of those developments that has unfortunately drawn the short straw. While the Windows and Mac flavors steamed ahead, the Qt Linux Skype client felt like a narcotic addiction. If you wanted to communicate via Skype you needed it, but it felt so watered down and archaic. The Qt Linux Skype client was deprecated in March 2017 to make way for its slick younger brother.
Skype for Linux is now available for download, but is it as full featured as its Windows and Mac cousins? Let’s take a closer look.
Download and Install
You will obviously need a Linux distribution with a desktop environment to use Skype for Linux. After you’ve opened your favorite browser, you can head over to the download page. Their current requirements list some of the common Linux distributions that are supported, namely Ubuntu, Debian, openSUSE and Fedora. If you are running Ubuntu or Debian select the DEB download, or RPM if openSUSE or Fedora is your weapon of choice. Once the file is downloaded it should just be a matter of double clicking the downloaded file and clicking install.
At first glance the two applications look very similar. As pictured below, both the Windows and Linux versions can sport the dark theme, which subjectively can be easier on the eyes. Currently the Skype icon and title bar scream the word Beta to assure you that this is still pre-release and you may be affected by bugs and odd behavior. For the time being anyway.
This is reassuring as many people can be impartial to change. When things are uniform and consistent, in other words we can’t really tell the difference, it makes switching easier.
Skype for Linux Alpha had very little interoperability in the sense that video calling was only enabled to other Linux and Chromebook users. That is now a thing of the past. Skype for Linux can now communicate with the rest of the Skype family. As long as you have a functioning webcam you can share that infectious smile with anyone running the latest version of Skype. Regardless of platform or device. Group video calling has also been added which is a welcome addition! The caveat being that this is still experimental so your mileage may vary.
Skype-to-Skype calls have always been free, ignoring the cost of connecting to the internet of course. However, Skype also provides calls to landlines and mobiles. This feature was also missing in the Alpha release, but it rears its welcome head in the Beta. After you have purchased a calling plan or loaded some Skype credit into your account, calls to landlines and mobiles will work as normal.
Screen sharing currently is half-implemented. You are able to accept and view a screen share from someone calling from Mac or Windows. If you’re on Linux however you can’t share your screen just yet.
The screenshot above shows a Windows desktop which has been shared to Skype for Linux. The resolution isn’t exactly 4K; that being said, Skype screen sharing should be sufficient for viewing what’s on the other user’s screen. The astute among you would have also noticed the video in the bottom right hand corner from the webcam as well. Trying to share your Linux screen in the other direction, as mentioned, isn’t possible.
The option doesn’t even exist yet. The screenshot above has the Linux option on the left and the Windows flavor on the right. If outgoing screen sharing from your Linux machine is part of your use case, you may want to hold on to your Windows version until this feature becomes available.
Out With the Old, In With the New
If you’re migrating from the now deprecated Skype 4.3, you can transfer your chat history over. Under the application menu navigate to Tools > Export chat history. This will save your previous Skype text chat discussions. Skype for Linux currently stores the past 30 days of conversation history, with promises of extending this time frame in the future.
Another feature, which arguably is quite an edge case, is running two instances of Skype simultaneously. Simply run with the command line argument
--secondary to have a second instance of Skype running side by side.
Skype for Business
If your organisation is governed by Office 365, Skype for Business is one of the communication tools offered in its suite. After scouring the web, there doesn’t quite seem to be any sign Skype for Business being available for Linux. Not in the form of an Alpha, not even a thread from Microsoft. This may come across as being strange as this is the paid option which requires a monthly subscription.
That being said, none of the other Microsoft Office applications run natively on Linux either (only with help from Wine). If you’re planning on switching any time soon, with a requirement for Skype for Business, this may be a deal breaker for you. The Skype for Business web client which hooks into Outlook 365 seems to only offer chat functionality. This may have been sufficient for many people if it had the bells and whistles of its desktop application variant.
Has Microsoft Lost Its Mind?
Much of the recent direction of Microsoft seems like such an anti-pattern to its old ways. You can now find Linux versions of SQL Server, and even Visual Studio Code — all native to Linux! This new direction from Microsoft is really refreshing. Had Microsoft not taken this path, some would argue that it would have been their downfall.
The wider adoption of Linux desktop machines has also made people aware that making applications available to Linux means going with the flow. Porting of applications may not be as quick as people desire, but there’s no doubt that headway is being made. And if the bigger players are on board, there’s no telling which applications are going to be available next!
Which applications do you wish ran on Linux? What Skype alternatives do you use regularly? Have you thought about switching entirely to Linux yet? Let us know in the comments below!