Which app or service shall we choose now that MS has taken over Skype?Skype is the best instant messaging and video conferencing programme up to now, but I have decided I don’t want to use it anymore. The interface of the latest version is more than bloated. Sound quality is between fair and good, particularly if your microphone uses ambient sound compensation. Video quality is reasonable, but this seems to depend largely on your specific hardware configuration, while some other software is able to improve quality by post-processing (iChat, FaceTime). Skype is only compatible with itself. Let’s have a look at a number of possible Skype alternatives. While some software may replace Skype completely, we might want to use a combination of different application to achieve the same result. Discusses are instant messaging systems, on-line voice chat video conferencing software, file transfer services, andVoIP services. The products discussed in this article should at least:
– be available for Windows, Mac and Linux
– allow you to use the main service without any limits, at no charge, while it may charge for additional services
– do at least one of the following: instant messaging, voice chat, video chat, screensharing, file transfer, VoIP
– be a current product, not be in beta stage, and be expected to stay around a little while longer. Of course, nothing guarantees that the latter condition is indeed satisfied and in the reviews below I won’t pay attention to this issue. There are a few products that are not available for all three operating systems, but are still discussed because they are very well-known. Nimbuzz
http://www.nimbuzz.com Great programme for VoIP to landlines and mobiles. Good sound quality, particularly if your microphone uses ambient sound compensation. Lacks video chat. I like the interface more than Skype’s and much more than ooVoo’s and YuuGuu’s. If Nimbuzz had P2P audio and video chat, it would be my favourite over Skype. Compatible with Yahoo, GoogleTalk, AIM, ICQ, MSN, and Facebook. Support for ICQ is incomplete, as contacts can be added but not deleted. Also, there is no way to block authorisation requests.
At the time of writing, VoIP from Nimbuzz to landlines is really cheap in most European countries while VoIP from Nimbuzz to mobile can be considered relatively inexpensive. ooVoo
http://www.oovoo.com Somewhat bloated interface. Not attractive to use. Seems to have all Skype features, but the free version lacks desktop sharing and allows no more than 3 participants in a video conference. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work with my web cam. I wrote to support to complain about the issue but haven’t received a reply yet. File transfer seems to be limited to 5MB, which is ridiculous in this time of fast internet. This programme seems to use an intermediate server rather than real P2P for some features, which puzzles me. It seems that ooVoo is compatible with itself only, although there are options to import contacts from several other services. Importing contacts basically means that your contacts get an e-mail with a request to download and install ooVoo.
OoVoo has potential, but not without working video chat feature. The software tends to get slower and lock up over time. I also noticed that ooVoo is rather CPU intensive and it crashed when I tried to open a video chat without working camera. iChat
http://www.apple.com/ichat Almost perfect sound quality. Good video chat quality, but unfortunately locking up iChat once in a while. It also happens once in a while that I can’t connect to specific Macs. The reason might be a firewall or router, but Skype, Nimbuzz and ooVoo don’t seem to have this problem. Why can’t Apple solve this? File transfer is quick and easy. It still puzzles me why chat history doesn’t appear in the current chat window. Compatible with ICQ, AIM, Jabber, Facebook, GoogleTalk. Keep in mind that iChat is available for Mac only, but since it is compatible with quite a few chat services, this doesn’t need to be a problem. FaceTime
http://www.apple.com/mac/facetime/ FaceTime uses the same technology as iChat for video conferencing is thus pretty good. It has a totally bloated interface and is complicated to use. I tried it once and have it never running. As far as I know, FaceTime is compatible with itself only. Video quality is good. I’m always pleasantly surprised by the video quality in Apple’s software. Another advantage is the relatively low CPU usage (9% on my machine, during video conference). Facetime seems to allow for some Mac-to-phone service, but this doesn’t work for me and FaceTime doesn’t tell me how to correct the problem (I would expect an error message similar to: go to www.somewebsite.bla to download and install essential software or ask your friend to follow the instructions at www.itunes.com/bla). I’m slightly disappointed that Apple doesn’t provide FaceTime for iPhone for free. FaceTime is only mentioned for the sake of completeness. It is available for Mac only and doesn’t really belong in this list. Adium
http://adium.im/ Very nice and widely used open-source programme for instant messaging. Like iChat, Adium runs on Mac OS X only. No video chat and no VoIP. Adium crashes once in a while. Compatible with all major instant messaging services and Gadu-Gadu, ICQ and Twitter. Generally stable, but once in a while an Adium release appears to be unlucky. Frankly, I believe that Adium has too many options to be considered an easy-to-use chat app. ICQ Instant messaging only. Very insecure network. Remnant of the 20th century. Compatible with AIM. MSN Just mentioning it because it is widely used. MSN is included on Windows PC’s by default, which automatically makes it the most widely distributed software compared to all alternatives. I have never used it and can’t comment on it. Feel free to write a comment below. YuuGuu It is really difficult to figure out what YuuGuu’s free features are. It seems that free features are rather limited. Screensharing is free if both sides of YuuGuu installed. YuuGuu-to-web screensharing is available as part of a paid subscription. Voice chat is available as phone conferencing, for which you need to buy a special number. In my country, the Netherlands, this happens to be an extremely expensive number. Organising a phone conference yourself, using your own phone carrier, is likely to be cheaper.
Interface is modest but behaves a bit unusual. Example: click on the arrow next to the start button to open a menu. Clicking the arrow again should close the menu but it doesn’t. Just as with iChat, I did have some connection problems, which seem specific to someone’s hardware configuration. I think that YuuGuu was created with Java, which doesn’t necessarily make it more attractive for many people. Compatible with Yahoo, GoogleTalk, AIM, ICQ and MSN. DropBox
http://www.dropbox.com Why mention Dropbox? This isn’t a chat app nor video conferencing software! True, but it replaces one important feature of Skype with great perfection: file transfers. Put a file into your public folder to share with everyone or put it into a specific shared folder to share the file with an individual or group. Your partner in conversation can change the file and put it back into the same shared folder to show you the changes. Be careful though: if you remove the file from the folder, your friends will lose it if they didn’t make a copy in a different location on their hard disk. VNC
use your favourite search engine There are many VNC programmes, which could offer an alternative to Skype’s screen sharing feature. The main problem with this is that you often need to open a port in your router to allow for a direct P2P connection. Mac OS X has a screen sharing server built in, Microsoft has a Remote Desktop Connection programme and for Linux many different VNC versions are available. JaJah
http://www.jajah.com I saw JaJah listed on other blogs and decided to have a look. JaJah is a system that connects people through the phone line. It doesn’t do anything Skype does, except that it lets you talk with someone else; no VoIP, no video conference, no file transfers. Also, it is horribly expensive. It is cheaper to call abroad from my own mobile phone (currently, I pay approximately 25 cents per minute to call to Germany from mobile to mobile, while JaJah costs more than 30 cents). GoogleTalk/GoogleVoice
http://www.google.com/voice/ “Google Voice is not available in your country”. US only, apparently. Cool. That saves me the time writing about it. QuteCom
http://trac.qutecom.org Theoretically, this project provides voice and video chat. Unfortunately, to install this programme on a Linux or Mac machine takes a lot of time and some technical skills. This isn’t the right app that you might want to ask your friends and business partners to install quickly right before an important on-line conference. SightSpeed
http://www.sightspeed.com/ Logitech’s SightSpeed is not free. LogiTech offers a free alternative, called Logitech Vid. Logitech Vid
http://www.logitech.com/vid From experience, I have to say that Logitech isn’t the most reliable partner. When I bought a new computer quite some time ago, this rendered my Logitech scanner useless and all Logitech said was “sorry”. Logitech Vid doesn’t work with my web cam (MacAlly). Contacts are to be added by e-mail, who would then receive a request to install the software. Although it might work for some, it is useless to me. When I did a test call, nothing indicated whether the call was successful or unsuccessful. After some time, an advertisement tried to persuade me to buy Logitech webcams —and failed. IMO.im
https://imo.im/ IMO is a web based service that connects a large number of different chat services (MSN, AIM, ICQ, MySpace, Facebook, Yahoo, Google Talk, Skype, Jabber). This service doesn’t seem to have a voice or video chat platform of its own. I haven’t tried this myself yet but a friend who uses it daily told me that video chat doesn’t work and the iPad version crashes a lot. Still, I think it is an interesting service and the availability of the video chat might depend on the types of services that are connected as well as your hardware configuration. Further testing definitely recommended.
I tried the iPhone version, which works nicely. I was able to log in on MSN. Unfortunately, the first time when I logged in on Skype, hundreds of otherwise blocked spammers appeared in my contact list.
The IMO.im interface isn’t the most intuitive and the iPhone/iPad app is buggy (often need to tap twice where you’d expect one tap to be sufficient) and crashes a lot. Still, this is the only app I keep trying and which I haven’t uninstalled yet. UStream/LiveStream
http://www.livestream.com There are several on-line services that let you stream your webcam, voice and screen to one or multiple recipients. Some of them allow for private conversations. This might be a good alternative for Skype, but won’t let you transfer files. A cool side-effect is that you’ll be able to record the entire conversation. Conclusion No service or software is currently able to replace Skype completely. OoVoo would be a good attempt, if it worked as advertised. For Mac users, iChat is probably a nice alternative, as long as your partner in conversation has a Mac, too. Nimbuzz seems to be a great VoIP alternative, but only for calls from computer to phone. It is possible to chat, but I don’t know anyone with a Nimbuzz account to chat with. IMO.im would probably be the best instant message client if it weren’t that buggy. To replace Skype with a cross-platform solution, you’d probably want to make a combination of several applications and services. A good combination would be Nimbuzz, VNC, DropBox. Imo.im would be very useful if it weren’t that buggy. Some might want to choose a different path and choose to use on-line streaming services. If you know of a really good software product or on-line service to replace Skype, please let me know. Until thats day, I’ll keep Skype installed, just in case everything else fails. You can find Skype at http://www.skype.com .