Early adopter, entrepreneur, leader interested in software, the Internet, mobile telephony and computing, and VoIP. Founder or senior management with The Personal Bee, Orb Networks, CallTrex, Borland (BORL), The Dr. Spock Company, Neta4, WhoWhere?, CMP Media, and IT Solutions.

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Thursday, May 20, 2004

Firefly.. softphone and network but not P2P

A reader anonymously wrote in to suggest that I give Freshtel's Firefly a test drive. While it looks like another nice option, competing with FWD and others, it doesn't appear to be P2P... am I missing something? I believe that there is an important distinction between the VoIP providers with centralized arhchitectures and a P2P architecture. The three providers I have found so far in the later category are Skype, ITALK2U, and Peerio -- anyone know of others? Of course each of these has drawbacks starting with the reasonable argument that Skype shouldn't be considered P2P at all... (see earlier post on Why Skype is No Different...)

Review of ITALK2U

Alec Saunders sent email with a link to his review of ITALK2U and a comparison to Skype. Thanks Alec! In part he writes:

iTalk doesn't yet support conference calling, or encrypted calling, and doesn't have the Skype missed calls list, but other than that appears to be a functional clone of Skype. It's also a bit more standards based, in that it supports H.323, rather than a proprietary signalling protocol, but it uses a proprietary codec, which makes that somewhat moot. Voice quality is similar to Skype, which is to say very good, but I don't know how well it will handle dial-up. The codec seems to be some kind of a learning codec, in that quality improved over the duration of the call. MSN messenger is the same way.

Click on over to Alec's blog for the rest of his rundown and screenshots.

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.

Monday, May 17, 2004

How cheap can it get?

Already it is significantly cheaper to use VoIP providers like Vonage for your telephony needs, but now there is a price war between the low cost providers! According to this NetworkingPipeline story, Vonage Cuts Prices for Internet Calling

The company insisted it was not launching a price war in a market that is just starting, saying that the price cut reflected its decreasing costs in doing business.

Right. And as the article goes on to point out, AT&T announced their CallVantage plan just 6 weeks ago with an introductory price of $19.99 a month for the first six months. I am guessing that would have slowed Vonage's customer acquisition rate.

 
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