The place of skype
Skype is a communication tool. It is used by people to communicate with other people. Communication is an essential part of work. And in many companies, skype is therefore an essential part of work. This in itself is not a problem as long as it allows each and every employee to communicate adequately.
The reason for skype adoption
Skype has historically been broadly adopted for two reasons: it is simple to use, and reliable. This is achieved, as far as I know, by two main strategies:
- The user experience is as simplified as possible: download, install, use. With as little steps as possible.
- The connectivity uses bruteforce in many cases, to go around firewalls and restrictive NAT gateways.
The reason why skype is now more present than ever is its default inclusion in any Microsoft operating system starting from Windows 8.1. This makes it the de facto default on many systems. Another way to phrase that is:
"If your company is using windows, there is a high probability that you will have to use skype too."
The problem with Skype
As stated in the first part, when adopted by a company, Skype becomes an essential part of your work environment. You cannot work if you do not communicate with your coworkers.
As stated in the second part, Skype is quite broadly adopted, making any problem it would cause a bigger one.
So, is there a problem with skype?
As much as I would like to say no, there is a single, huge problem with it:
It does not play well with others.
And by others, I mean any other tool made by another company than Microsoft. This is clearly stated by slack in their open letter to Microsoft:
We know that playing nice with others isn’t exactly your MO [...]
How does that concretely apply?
Microsoft has published a web client that uses WebRTC to communicate with its servers but there is no public API, and as far as I can tell, the use of the API in the code of their web client isn't really easy to grasp.
And the web client has (at the time of writing) functional problems: message delivery failures, work-breaking delays (from dozen of minutes to hours - making some messages delivered the next day), and very limited features.
But it also has major problems inherited from its nature: a web client.
- It needs all the depedencies of such a browser (GUI, etc.)
- Its behavior is restricted to what the browser allows (so what is in the html/js code of the skype web client)
- Its appearance, no matter how much it bothers you and prevents you from focusing on work, is also set in stone.
So, if you want a comfortable skype experience, you will need a windows machine.
However, in many tech jobs, you will rely on having a UNIX workstation, which will have many of the tools you need for the job: a POSIX shell, ssh, and a probably open source toolstack needed for the precise job you're doing; let alone the whole software stack you are using for years and with which you are comfortable.
While those tools sometimes work on windows, they aren't as reliable, exposing you to various problems that you would not be having on a UNIX workstation. And you will also lose the comfort of having a familiar environment you are productive in.
Here is where the problem lies: Windows sucks at technical tasks (whoever says the contrary does not have enough experience: you can not understand what a good software is until you actually use one), it also has a single user interface available (explorer); and is the only platform you can really use Skype on.
So TL;DR: You cannot work as an engineer if your company is using skype, for the aforementioned reasons.
There are a few solutions as alternatives to Skype, that solve all the problems Skype has with a single move: allowing interoperability.
- IRC (protocol) - Consider The Lounge as a software
- Mattermost an open source, self-hosted Slack-alternative
- GNU Ring
- XMPP (Jabber) (protocol)
It is also worth noting that in the event Skype has to be used for multiple teams to communicate with video stream (for example for stand up meetings in different locations), it does NOT mean that Skype has to be used for anything else. Your daily communications can totally happen on another, interoperable, platform.
Skype can be attractive to companies using Windows as it does not require any extra installation, and works out of the box in almost all situations, but make no mistake: adopting Skype is an extremely dangerous tradeoff, that will potentially cost you the possiblity of having any advanced technical personal in your company.
Considering that there are so many alternatives, and that they are now so user friendly, the tradeoffs aren't nearly worth it anymore, in my honest opinion.