Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Another Skype competitor

Here is another competitor to Skype in the peer to peer VoIP world -- called Peerio it appears to have a number of advantages over Skype... with a few caveats though. First of all it is open source, second it has a developer API which will easily allow others to build Peerio compatible applications, third it claims to be entirely serverless (as opposed to the directory architecture required by Skype) and fourth it is based on H.323 and SIP standards.

Now for a few caveats... their web site definitely leaves a lot to be desired with lots of holes to be filled (although the promise is there). More problematic is the half-hearted approach to open source. On the site they write:

Despite our efforts, there are two necessary exceptions to the open source principle:

1) The source codes for the Peerio444™ core will not be released.
2) Peerio444™ will not function in embedded systems and is limited to standard PC use (x86 and PowerPC).

Why is that?
The source codes for the Peerio444™ core will be kept proprietary so that we can avoid spawning hundreds of proprietary commercial systems (see Linux) that could jeopardize our ability to maintain a Forever Free platform. To be Forever Free we must protect the system from profiteers. Support and maintenance of the Peerio 444™ core will be limited to our research and development team.

This is like saying that you can do any work on the car except for modifying the engine -- we have welded the hood shut to prevent you from making modifications to anything inside that compartment.

This flies in the face of good open source policy for a whole bunch of reasons but I'll just mention a few here:
  • At anytime Peerio can change the definition of what is inside the core and what is outside the core, endangering other projects that have been built on Peerio.
  • The argument that this protects the system from "profiteers" is spurious -- by contrast placing assets in the open source community creates a level playing field
  • Most importantly, Peerio will defeat its own strategy by holding back this key element of the product -- open source only works as a viral means of distribution when it is truly open.

Part of the point of open source is that by using it, a developer is no longer dependent upon the whims of a given company for the future of their development project -- The developer knows that the core building blocks will always (Forever?) be available. By holding back this key element as proprietary property Peerio eliminates that key advantage of open source and will significantly reduce the number of companies and individuals willing to invest in the future of the project.

On another front, I have been meaning to test the beta of ITALK2U which has been out for awhile from Endoreal/LitFiber. I downloaded one version and couldn't get it to work, but have been meaning to download a newer version. If anyone out there has had any success, please let me know.


Anonymous said...

since your trying other softphones, why not try Firefly Softphone.


I don't think any closed proprietary software has much a future either (and this includes skype). They too make lots of promises and have not yet delivered the ability to call POTS.

Anyway, Firefly works fine for me, so if you wish to call to test, my firefly # is 8333 3333 (put no spaces if you add me) If I am not there, leav a voice mail, it is afterall, free.

Anonymous said...

I saw a demo of another enterprise peer-to-peer system in UK recently- from a Canadian company called Nimcat Networks. Awesome. They are backed by some big players. I think peer-to-peer is the future of business VoIP.

Anonymous said...

From: Haig Shahinian (www.technocapitalist.com)

The big deal about Peerio is the 'core' proprietary tech and not really their voip client. The VoIP client just builds on top of OSIP, an open source project already GPLed. I'm pretty sure the only reason their doing this hybrid OSS/Proprietary licensing is 1.)Quick implementation of a SIP compliant client and 2.)The added press & attention that comes with branding your produc 'open source' these days.

The real product is the proprieary core, which is a completely serverless p2p platform, which can be used for more than just voip, but its a good trojan horse. Unlike most p2p,including skype which uses an index/directory lookup, peerios core somehow does a serverless discovery of peers over the network (multicast or zeroconf based maybe?) It also manages presence and other goodies important to build IM and other communication systems on. Their strategy is to embed this into phones and devices as 'peerio inside'. Works for me, best strategy I can think of for now.