Skype open source? Ain't gonna happen

Skype open source? Ain't gonna happen

Summary: 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.

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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.

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Topics: Software, Browser, Collaboration, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Social Enterprise

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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3 comments
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  • Encryption

    Even if Skype could legally release source code, it would not do so. Skype encryption is so good that no one, except perhaps some governments working in secret, have broken it. The company is not about to give that asset away for free.

    If Skype were to release source code, the biggest supporters would be law enforcement departments. Suddenly, criminals could not hide behind encrypted Skype calls.

    Anyway, it just ain't gonna happen -- no way, no how.
    mkrigsman@...
    • "Security by obscurity" never works.

      If Skype's encryption is so weak that it could be compromised by releasing the algos and/or source code, it's just about guaranteed to be close to worthless. The algos, and even sample code, for all the standard encryption mechanisms--RSA, Blowfish, etc.--are all readily available, but that doesn't compromise them in the slightest.
      Henry Miller
    • argh

      Releasing source code has nothing to do with breaking encryption. As long as you don't hard code the encryption keys, there is nothing in the source code that should be considered a secret. If your algorithm is sound, is should be shown to the security community and proven to be robust. If your code has bugs, they should be found and corrected. If you can't do that, its just a matter of time before your 'secret code' is reverse engineered, stolen or lost.

      Consider Bruce Schneier's Blowfish. He has stated that, "Blowfish is unpatented, and will remain so in all countries. The algorithm is hereby placed in the public domain, and can be freely used by anyone." That is how you show that you have good encryption. AES is similarly open. Recently (July), it has been shown more vulnerable to attacked than previously thought (http://eprint.iacr.org/2009/374).

      Trying to use secret algorithms is antithetical to secure encryption. You want to know if your algorithm breaks before the bad guys. If there is no open discussion, you will never know when your security is broken
      shis-ka-bob