The blogosphere was all a-twitter yesterday when rumors surfaced that Skype, the popular internet telephony application, would be released as open source "in the nearest future". It turns out that Skype's plans are not so grandiose, and even if they were, questions about who owns the code would prevent it from happening.
In a clarification posted today on Skype's Linux blog, developer Stanislav Karchebny (aka berkus) wrote:
Yes, there's an open source version of Linux client being developed. This will be a part of larger offering, but we can't tell you much more about that right now. Having an open source UI will help us get adopted in the "multicultural" land of Linux distributions, as well as on other platforms and will speed up further development. We will update you once more details are available.
The key words here are "open source UI". Oliver Faurax, who initially broke the story Monday, posted a Q&A on his site which explains:
Q. Will the protocol be open?
No. Berkus commented on my blog and on the Skype Linux blog that they will open the GUI code, and not the library. The most likely outcome is that they will provide a libskype closed binary library that will allow someone to communicate with a GUI.
One reason the library will not be open source is that Skype doesn't, um, have the source. According to a lawsuit filed in September over Skype intellectual property,
An executable-only object code form of the GI Software was licensed by Joltid to Skype, a well-known Internet-based company that provides users throughout the world with free or low-cost telephone services over the Internet. Skype did not obtain a license to the GI Software source code, however, and the license it did obtain was terminated based on Skype’s breaches of the license agreement.
In other words, Skype doesn't own their own core technology. If you believe Joltid, Skype is not even supposed to have the source code. Unless copyright holders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom (founders of Joltid) agree, Skype cannot change the license on that code and release it as open source. And given that Skype recently sold for $2 billion it's not likely they're going to hand it over for free.