A blog following VoIP developments is reporting on a personal experience with what appears to be the first third-party Skype client. The blog post describes an unreliable but working connection made from China to a standard Skype client in the US, along with supporting evidence such as the (obviously modified) screenshot below.
The new client is supposedly under heavy development by a Chinese company, and intrepid blogger Charlie Paglee notes that it may turn Skype from something evil and illegal in the eyes of the Chinese government to a national point of pride: “I wouldn’t be surprised if a major Chinese telco ends up licensing this technology to produce a competing Skype client for use in China. […] They reverse engineered a protocol that was not protected by patent. They will be seen as heroes in China and it is unlikely the government will ever take action against them.”
A public demo is reportedly slated for the end of August, with improved stability and some extra features such as instant messaging and presence. The final final release is aiming for “a client 100% compatible with Skype.” However, the blog post makes a big deal about the lack of Super Node functionality, saying that this omission could eventually bring the Skype network to its knees if the new client were to gain popularity. One statement or the other must be false, then.
So what will eBay do about the new competition, if it’s all true? One strong possibility is “nothing,” at least until the newcomer shows that it can generate substantial traffic and/or steal a significant number of Skype users. Another is the time-honored tradition of blocking unauthorized clients from using your protocols, and then keep changing the blocking techniques as each one is worked around by the intruding client’s own developers. The blogger thinks that eBay might buy the Chinese company, which would most likely be doable from a budgetary standpoint, but tricky when it comes to Chinese regulations and general PR smartitude.
How about opening the proprietary protocol up to third parties? The original client is unlikely to go open-source on us, though that would be great. But the communications protocol could be opened up and documented, maybe even with a supported official API. That would be a hit with trendsetting übergeeks, and eBay has a history of supporting outside developers, though it could cut into ad revenue. The official Skype client does feature a modicum of advertising, you know.
Whether or not the encryption has indeed been cracked and the protocol successfully reverse-engineered, eBay has several options for handling the situation, and none of them look like a coup de grace for the embattled VoIP service, and even less so to the parent company that felt like it could spend US$2.6 billion on a hunch that VoIP features might come in handy for auctioneers at some point. I’m still waiting for actual binaries before jumping to any conclusions, and even then this “breakthrough” might not amount to much.