[UPDATE: Want to see more secret skype emoticons? See here].
This week saw the launch of Skype 3.0 (beta) and on the surface there is very little new to get excited about other than a new plug-in manager. The real changes in this new version seem to have taken place under the hood where Skype has been working on Skype4Java and Skype4COM, new wrapper libraries that use the Skype API.
In release 1.1, Skype4COM added a security layer to enable you to add Skype features to Internet Explorer web pages. This feature introduces a number of windows to manage and customize Internet Explorer security settings. The new XPCOM wrapper will extend this ability to Mozilla Firefox® browsers and will be available soon for beta testing.”
It is these changes to Skype 3.0 which I believe make this beta release so important to the future success of Skype. With these changes, Skype has positioned itself to become a multi-OS communication platform for IM developers with a strong third party [add-in] ecosystem. Basically with Skype 3.0 third parties can now easily create add-ins and mashups using the Skype protocol and services to create newer P2P based applications.
Of course Skype is not becoming a totally open communication platform because the underlying P2P protocol itself (version 5) still remains proprietary. Although, a Chinese start-up claims to have cracked it by reverse-engineered the protocol which if true might just force Skype into taking a pre-emptive strike and becoming more open which eBay (owners of Skype) and Google even hinted at in a recent joint press release:
“Starting in the near future, Skype will offer its users the option to download the Google Toolbar, to which Skype will add a custom button. The companies will also explore interoperability between Skype and Google Talk via open standards to enable text, chat and online presence.”
Could version 6 of the Skype protocol possibly adopt open standards for text, chat and online presence, such as XMPP, to enable this Skype + GTalk interoperability? Right now I guess Skype may see interoperability as a lower priority to the immediate goal of attracting developers to their proprietary communication platform.
Unsurprisingly this developer platform strategy is not unique, as both Yahoo and Microsoft (Messenger & Communicator) have been extending the services around their respective IM clients for quite sometime and enabling third party applications to integrate into them. In many ways, with this 3.0 release, I feel Skype is announcing its formal entry into the “communication platform wars“.
In return, Steve Ballmer announced this week that Microsoft intends to launch a full-scale assault(?) on the VoIP market in the coming year. Not to be out done Yahoo announced at the Web 2.0 conference that they will integrate Yahoo Instant Messaging directly (which already has a VoIP capability) into the new Yahoo Mail beta, thus combining their products into a single interface.
The evolution of these three communication functions (IM, VoIP + email) has been inevitable for sometime now, hopefully SMS integration will also be a feature of this new universal communication client?
Mike Arrington on TechCrunch.com who covers this story in full said:
“Users will quickly get used to flipping quickly between email and IM depending on “presence” – whether or not the person they are communicating with is online. IM conversations will eventually be archived and stored in the same manner as emails, allowing users to drag old conversations into folders in the sidebar.”
So which communication platform [strategy] will win? Yahoo, Microsoft, Google or Skype? Right now it is too soon to tell but I would certainly like to combine my IM, email and VoIP into one client and more importantly have only one contacts database that I can synch with my mobile phone. Yahoo with their announcement today combined with recent advances in Yahoo mobile appear to be both technologically and commercially (the largest user base) leading the pack.
Google with Gmail, GTalk and Google Mobile are technologically closing in but lack the installed user base right now. Interestingly Outlook 2003 and Messenger have long had a presence awareness function in email without ever properly integrating the two products. With regard to Microsoft , they are in a right strategy/product mess with hotmail, live mail, messenger and communicator.
Personally of late I have started to use Skype more and more (for IM + VoIP) because of the useful plug-ins that make Skype valuable in multiple places. e.g the web & email toolbars, the presence buttons for bloggers and of late the mobile Skype client, which works really well on my T-Mobile MDA-Pro.
Add to that the recent “Talk for Britain” free landline calls incentive for the next six months and Skype 2.x has certainly become very compelling. Although I have downloaded and installed version 3.0 I am not using any of the add-in apps just yet.
[Fun footnote: In doing this post I did find a few posts discussing new hidden emoticons which some unknown programmer in Skype has added. If you type (mooning) with the brackets in Skype or (kate) (finger) (bandit) (toivo) (headbang) (smoking) (rock) (drunk) (flag:GB) you get osme interesting pictures.]