The long slow death of Skype for Asterisk.
It has been a while coming, but now at least the news is here. Skype have declined to renew their agreement with Digium to produce Skype for Asterisk.
I’ll miss it. (I’ve had a lot of fun with it – see earlier blog posts)
SFA (as it is sometimes known) is/was unique in that it allows a 3rd party developer to control a skype experience without being installed on the client’s desktop. It runs server side, in the rich environment of the Asterisk developer ecosystem.
When I wanted to bridge in chat from a different IM system, SFA was there, chat messages turned up as Asterisk events and I could manage them with my normal tool set. All I had to do was buy a license, no qualification, no pre-approval of the application, no certification of the hardware, just a creditcard, a click-through license and away you go.
SFA did presence properly too, your Skype status was available to asterisk, so calls could be routed to skype if you were online and to your cellphone if you weren’t (Skype can already do that you say – true enough – but with Asterisk I could whitelist callerid numbers and times of day, so that only the few would get to my cellphone out of office hours.)
So what went wrong?
In retrospect it seems clear that the wheels started falling off almost before the product got rolling. My guess is that Skype had a change of heart between the project’s announcement and beta. I don’t know if this was due to a change of direction or because they slowly realized what they had agreed to and wanted to minimize the damage.
The first hint that something was not quite right was when we applied to the Beta program, we got accepted, but I was told that there had been resistance from Skype.
The development of the product took ages, I really don’t know why, but the delay dampened enthusiasm.
Then, to my astonishment, Digium’s Mark Spencer – the instigator of the deal – started complaining publicly about the limitations skype were putting on the usage of the software. Only Skype IDs generated through a business account would be accepted for Skype for Asterisk, ruling out the easy transfer of existing normal IDs. We all complained but Skype were unwilling to budge.
When the product was finally launched, the license conditions included a provision explicitly banning the use of SFA in a ‘hosted’ environment. So you couldn’t offer SFA as a service, it wasn’t a matter of price, you just couldn’t do it.
So Skype deliberately hobbled SFA. What were they scared of ? Openness I think. If SFA had been released as first announced without the absurd limitations, Fring could have used it to run their skype gateway without getting shutdown. Phonefromhere.com could have offered a web-based skype client. Someone could have offered a REST interface to skype chat.
This might have made sense if Skype were planning to offer services that competed. But no, they simply didn’t want any software developers in their eco-system.
I’m not one of those who thinks that Microsoft ordered the axing of SFA, Skype probably never envisaged renewing, so when it came due, they pulled the plug.
However this is going to make for an interesting culture clash with Microsoft. For all their many faults, once they release a product Microsoft do encourage developers to use it to the full.
Anyway, now it is gone, leaving a bitter sweet aftertaste as a warning to future Skype partners.