What do you do when Skype crashes worldwide?…

…basically nothing if you’re anything like me. As I’m sure most people have realised by now, Skype went down today worldwide and it’s causing havoc because so many people have come to rely on it. I was planning to record a podcast today with some international friends and we basically had to scrap it in the end. This must be causing so much chaos right now. I often see on my little information bar in Skype that 6 million or so people are online, I know that in terms of world population that’s nothing but consider this, it’s estimated that 8 million people use Apple Macs and about the same for Linux, so 6 million is a sizable chunk in comparison.

One good thing that did come out of this situation was that it forced me to look at other avenues for my VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) fix. So what are the options? Well, frankly there aren’t many and a lot of them don’t work as well as they should in my view.

I tried to salvage my podcast with Gizmo Project which I’ve used briefly before. Gizmo is a product I like and I have a lot of time for it. There are many great things to like about it:

  • It uses SIP which is the standard for IP telephony and tries to be open (Skype doesn’t use SIP)
  • It has a great call record button built-in and it records straight to a .wav file
  • It interfaces nicely with standard phone set ups and other VoIP applications
  • It has some really great sound effects buttons which I love to play with, canned laughter never gets old does it 😉
  • It allows you to setup a conference call number for free and people can connect from any phone and most VoIP devices too, it also allows you to switch this number to your own country code very easily
  • Their Linux client has all the features of the Windoze or Mac versions (unlike Skype)

Gizmo has much to offer and I have a soft spot for it partly because of it’s open approach to VoIP and I also like it because Gizmo was the little furry fella in the film Gremlinsahhh.

So all is well with the world then? Well Not exactly. There’s one thing on the list of downsides to Gizmo that for me far outweighs all of the positives, it sounds bloody awful most of the time. I’ve tried to use it a couple of times for recording and it just sounds bad, there is often a terrible delay and echo on the voices making it hard to even understand what people are saying. This happens on all VoIP solutions I have to admit, I can vividly remember when the large hospital I worked for installed a swanky new Cisco IP telephony system and everyone dismayed at the echo and general call quality. “Can’t we go back to the old switchboard?” they cried in vain and that was on a high speed corporate LAN not the wider Internet. So I know this problem isn’t confined to Gizmo, it happens everywhere at times but it always seems to happen to me with Gizmo. I don’t know if I’m unlucky or just an incompetent user but the few times I’ve used Gizmo it’s left me more than a little frustrated.

Take today for example, I got together with 4 friends for our usual chat and podcast recording, we decided to try Gizmo because Skype was down. I setup a conference room and gave everyone the number, the call record button worked great so all seemed well. We got into the conference room and the delay was about 4 or 5 seconds and totally unusable for our needs. Also after a very short time the call quality noticeably dropped and everyone started to sound like they were under water, the call was breaking up so much that most of our time was spent going “what??!!! what did you say I couldn’t understand it”. We had to give up in the end. I tried a couple of things to fix the problem, rebooting my router which never gives me a problem with Skype and reducing the number of callers in the hope of a better connection but it was no good.

I’m not sure what to make of this really. Was it just bad luck? Was the Gizmo system overloaded today because of the Skype crash? Or was it just that Skype is a better system generally (call quality wise I mean). A lot of people have told me that the reason Skype tends to sound better is because it uses proprietary codecs for audio processing and systems like Gizmo use open or off-the-shelf solutions. Can this really be all it is? They must have some serious black magic packed into their software at Skype because the difference in quality is really noticeable for me. There isn’t really much I like about Skype other than the audio quality, in many ways Gizmo is a better fit for me, if only it sounded better.

So what are the answers here do you think? Is it just that Gizmo needs to find or write better codecs? Why aren’t there any decent open source solutions out there yet? Am I just an idiot who needs Gizmo lessons to get the call quality right, and if so why does Skype work so well for me? So many questions and not many answers, if you have any thoughts on this please use the comments and let me know 😉

In the meantime I’m stuck on Skype I think. Not that it really bothers me but I’d like a choice, a one horse race is never any fun. I will continue to follow Gizmo and persevere with it, hopefully they will improve call quality soon. Right I’m off to play outside while waiting for Skype to resurface then… oh it’s pissing down again… DVD anyone?

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