Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Truth or Skype?

Recently I had to install Skype in order to be able to contact a job lead in the manner most convenient for them. After my recent successes with SIP VOIP I thought it was time to try Skype, I'd heard much good about it.

I went to their site, located the Linux build I needed, scanned the hardware requirements. I thought I saw the requirements say that it only needed a 400 MHz CPU and about 128 MB of memory. The installation on my desktop computer went smooth, a simple dpkg installation of a .deb package. When I finished and tried calling their echo test number, echo123, I was greatly disappointed. The incoming sound was fine, but I'd have to rate what I heard of my voice echoed back as one of the worst audio experiences of my life, that badly distorted.

I installed Skype on another computer, a much more powerful media server and found the performance was fine. The problem then was with my desktop. I went back to the download page, and noticed that the required CPU speed was 1 GHz, not the 400 MHz I remembered seeing. I searched around some and did find a page on Skype's support site that quoted the speed I remembered seeing. Whether they changed this after I downloaded the .deb or if I had chased off surface pages of their web sites looking for the information I can't recall. I'd heard so much about good about Skype I didn't expect any problem, especially after the SIP successes I'd had lately.

Shane on suggested some terms to google and after much flondering I found a couple of pages that gave older versions of Skype's client program.

After an abortive try at 1.4, I found a version 1.3 that seems to work fine. There were some comments that turned up indicating some people found versions after a 1.3 release to be incompatible with some Linux Distros. Whether this was because people using Slackware Linux had no other need to update their hardware or a genuine software incompatability I don't know.

I also thought I saw Skype claim their program works over 33.7 KHz dialup lines. I consider this conclusive evidence that they use some form of audio compression, which could explain why there is increased need for CPU speed. Probably not a problem on more modern computers, but one form of audio compression, encoding to .mp3, is definitly not a real time process on my computer so this probably backs the problem cause scenario.

Anyway, this might save someone some time.

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