Today I got an email from a mailing list I am currently subscribed to and someone pointed out that a new version of Skype for Linux was released. The last release of Skype for Linux (2.0.x) was indeed plagued with bugs, refused to let me (or any one else I know) use both mics built into my Dell laptop. Video would stutter, drop calls were frequent, and crashes happened more often than not. All in all by any real definition Skype sucks. Unfortunately, the OS X client works well (although still not as well as the Windows one) but still lacked the full love of the dev team. Worst of all, Skype just has not worked since I (and a friend of mine) switched to Jaunty (Actually Linux Mint 7) and Pulse audio is the new default. A few weeks ago, the Skype for Linux blog was updated saying a new beta was on the way. Beta? Nearly a year of work and all you have is a new Beta? For a second I was confused but then I remembered this is Skype, closed source, take it or leave it, Skype.

Getting the Beta

So I have the Medibuntu repository installed which is where I installed Skype from. Although as of the time of writing this they have yet to be updated, I have left a comment on launch pad asking them to do so. The next obvious step is to try and grab a copy from the Skype site. Expecting to see nice shiny new builds, I was instead greeted with this:

Hmm. Something here is definitely not right. No Jaunty build but at least they are supporting the LTS. Also, I just switched from Fedora 11, but alas no download for Fedora 11 either. Tisk tisk devs, the 9.10 release is only 2 months away! Oh well when faced with this sort of situation it makes sense to go for the "next best" and with Skype, as a Linux users that is exactly how you are treated, a second (or even third after OS X) class citizen. So the 8.10 64bit it is!

So while the new version downloads, lets take a look at some of the release notes so we know what to expect. From their download page:

Hardware requirements

  • 1 Ghz processor or faster
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 20 MB free disk space on your hard drive
  • Microphone and speakers or headset
  • Internet connection – broadband is best (GPRS is not supported for voice calls)
  • Video card driver with Xv support

Software requirements

  • Qt 4.2.1+
  • D-Bus 1.0.0
  • libasound2 1.0.12
  • PulseAudio 0.9.10+ (optional)
  • PulseAudio 0.9.15+ (optional recommended)

OK so the hardware requires nothing too outstanding. Pretty much the same kind of requirements for most modern desktop distros like Ubuntu, SUSE, and Fedora. Since it requires only Xv support it should not be too difficult to use open source drivers.

The software requirements push the Qt to 4.2 and recommend the latest edition of PulseAudio.

Install

Trying to launch the .deb by just double clicking it pulls up the package installer. Unfortunately it conflicts with the older version of Skype (instead of properly recognizing it and upgrading the package). Here is a shot of the friendly message:

Simple fix though:

sudo apt-get remove skype
sudo apt-get autoremove

This removes the Skype and its dependencies. After this was completed I was easily able to double click the .deb and use the installer.

I decided to do some digging to see what files are actually included. By extracting the .deb I found three files, data.tar.gz, control.tar.gz, and a very boring file called debian-binary which was actually a text file. Digging a bit further, In the control.tar.gz file there is an md5sum file with md5's of all the files installed. I decided to also download the 32-bit version to check it out. Turns out they both have the exact same files for /usr/bin/skype

AMD64 6a893aa965018c61d4de15227a27df50 usr/bin/skype
i386 6a893aa965018c61d4de15227a27df50 usr/bin/skype

Really? Same binary for both? Why even release a 64bit edition? This is just sad and I really hope Skype picks up the ball here. Just because I already have a bunch of 32bit libs, does not mean I want to keep running a 32/64 bit system! I WANT 64BIT DAMN IT!

Initial Look

Right off the bat I see a positive improvement, CPU utilization is down! Here are before an after shots of my Gnome-system-monitor:

Before:

After:

Clearly someone was awake here and made an important improvement and change. Kudos to the devs. Ill take more RAM usage over less CPU since this system has 4GB and my Eee 901 has 2GB.

Another welcomed fix is when I remove a contact, it actually removes it instantly. Previously I had to close Skype and relaunch it.

Opening the settings for Skype, there are not that many cosmetic changes so I jump strait to the Sound Devices. Previously, this is where I would spend most my time. It would take me about 20 minutes to try all the combinations to figure out the best working one for output and input. However, input is what was exactly what was broken on the previous version, especially when using Pulse audio. This time I have a different feeling. The sound devices now only show Pulse audio for all three drop-downs with no other options available. Usually I hate not having options but I only hate that when the defaults don't work.

I am happy to report that not only the sound works fine by default but it sounds more clear as well. Less popping, cracking and delays. The test call also went off way better than expected. The prior version of Skype, I was only able to choose either the left mic or the right one. This really was annoying because I had to practically shout to be heard. Not any more! Both mics seem to work together finally and my voice played back loud and clear.

Now for the web cam. Thanks to MS/Vista requiring all new web cams be built to use UVC drivers, just about any laptop integrated or 3rd party web cam is UVC compliant and therefore are supported by modern Distros. I selected the "Video Devices" item on the menu list. A familiar configuration screen is presented and clicking the [Test] button worked just as expected with a bit more pep this time around.

Calling Long Distance

I decided to test a call with my brother who is attending Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, about 3 hours away. I know its not across contents or anything but it is at least across states. He is using his Macbook Pro and running the latest version of Skype. Here is a shot of the video call:

This shot is just a shot of the whole desktop to give you some idea of proportion of the chat window:

The video quality was adequate but I feel like it has not improved since the 2.0.x releases. The audio quality was more than acceptable and there was no excessive lag. The initial lag during our call turned out to be from my brother trying to torrent a LinuxMint 7 iso during the call.

The past version had issues with the "Show Yourself Window" or what ever its called. When I would first launch a call, it would not show up, I would have to stop and restart my video for this to work. If I then wanted to make the playback window larger, I would have to stop and start my video again to get the preview window to come back. When ever I tried to do full screen I was just not able to make the preview window work. Thankfully this version is no longer plagued by this bug. The preview window worked flawlessly in normal, double and full screen mode.

It seems the developers are at least listening to the feedback of their users, even if it is taking a long time to do so.

Sticking with it

As applications like ekegia and flash-based video calls improve, Skype will see more and more competition. This is a good thing since as much as I rag on it, I do truly like Skype. I would love to see it Opened and improved at a much greater pace but what remains true is they have not forgotten about Linux, they were just...busy?