If you’re feeling a little frosty this morning, it might be because hell just froze over: Microsoft announced today that it is bringing full-featured Skype experiences to Linux (!), Chromebook and the Chrome web browser.
“We want to make it easy for anyone to connect on Skype,” the Skype team announced. “Today, we’re pleased to announce the launch of the alpha version of a new Skype for Linux client, reaffirming our commitment to the Linux community. And if you are using a Chromebook device or Chrome browser on Linux, you can now visit web.skype.com and make one-to-one and group voice calls on top of the messaging features you get today.”
I recently spoke with Microsoft corporate vice president Gurdeep Pall, who oversees the Skype business. He told me that Microsoft was dedicated to ensuring that Skype was available everywhere, and that the experience was always first-rate.
“We have some very active and passionate users on Linux and Chrome,” he said. “But the Linux client has not been updated in years. Now, a more modern client is coming. It will offer audio only at first—it’s an early preview—but video is coming shortly.”
So here’s what’s happening.
Microsoft is developing a new Skype application on Linux that will eventually look and work much like the versions on Windows and Mac, though it’s really a web app, or WebRTC client. The current release is an alpha and is of course not feature complete. But it features Skype’s next-generation calling architecture, so it will let you call others on the latest versions of Skype on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, but not on the years-old Linux client.
You can download the new Skype for Linux alpha from the Skype web site. Additionally, Microsoft is hosting a two hour Q&A between Linux users and the Skype engineering team at 10:00 am EST, and it is very interested in getting feedback on the new client.
“You’ll notice that it’s very different to the Skype for Linux client you use today,” the Skype team notes. “For example, you’ll be using the latest, fastest and most responsive Skype UI, so you can share files, photos, videos and a whole new range of new emoticons with your friends.”
As for Chromebook and the Chrome web browser, you may recall that Skype audio calls now work on Chromebook. As it turns out, the Skype for Web client is based on the same codebase as the new Skype for Linux, and it will thus be updated with the same new features as that client is updated. So more functionality is coming soon, including video calling and calls to land lines and mobiles.
Yep. This is happening.