Speak for free

Goodbye Skype, it was nice knowing you: the eBay-owned Voice over IP firm has agreed to cripple their software on non-Intel machines. If you log in with a PC based on an AMD chip, as many are, the number of people you can conference with is halved, for no reason other than business.

Exciting Valentine’s news for them, maybe, but this deserves to be the kiss of death. Okay, for most people it won’t make a difference (most Skype calls are one-to-one), but in places like education it might have a significant impact. Budget-minded institutions may well have picked PCs based on AMD chips, which are just as good if not better and often a fraction of the cost; they may also find themselves wanting to use large VoIP conference rooms for classes and meetings. Speaking personally, it’s also an anti-competitive business decision that I’d rather not reward with my money.

So what alternatives are there to Skype?

I’ll discount Google Talk (which Dave and I often use to chat to each other) because, although it’s very light on resources and has good sound quality, it doesn’t support conferencing. Similarly, Yahoo Messenger and its MSN equivalent do offer voice, but not in a conference call.

The Gizmo Project offers free conference calling, but through a hack. Rather than offering it as a software feature, you have to visit a special website in order to set up a conference room. The bonus is, however, that while Gizmo users can phone a special user and join the call for free, you also get a phone number to let landline users join the chat. Gizmo and Google Talk are now intercompatible, but I’m not sure whether this facility also extends to Google users. Bonus: it’s available on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Ekiga, formerly Gnome Meeting, is available for Linux and Windows and provides basic SIP voice over IP and conferencing. The website looks a little sparse, but the software itself appears to be sponsored in part by the Universite catholique de Louvain.

Finally, I was amazed to see that Speak Freely is still going. Originally released in 1991, the Windows application has been open sourced and kept up to date (although its website is in need of attention). It supports conferencing but isn’t very user friendly: the documentation talks about IP multicasting emulation.

Any more free conference-enabled VoIP tools that I’ve missed? Let me know.

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