Ten Skype alternatives and a highly secure wildcard: bitmessage

Skype is huge and frankly completely synonymous with making free online VoIP Calls. First introduced in August 2003 and written by the folks behind Kazaa, here’s two quick trainspotting facts for you: at any given time there are approximately 34 million people using Skype, and, the original name for the platform was Sky Peer-to-Peer, which was then merged to make the name ‘Skype’.

Bought by Microsoft in 2011 for $8.5 billion Skype is now even integrated into their email client Outlook; and the popularity of Skype continues to dominant the VoIP. Quick side note, we here at Concise Courses are gigantic fans of everything and anything open source (as in all types of open source, free beer et al), and we’ve been using Thunderbird since time immemorial; we just mentioned that because Thunderbird has integrated chat and Instant Messaging into the client for a while now (seems that Microsoft is playing catch-up with that particular added functionality). Anyways – we digress – Skype, as we have said, is not only huge but it has changed us. The ability to video chat and stream our lives has made the world infinitely smaller, and for the better. Two things in our opinion have made the world a tiny place: the 747 and Skype.

Unlike most other VoIP services which we will list below, Skype is a hybrid peer-to-peer and client–server system. The platform and technology uses background CPU processing powers of host computers to run the Skype software, and hence make video and audio calls.

Concise Courses is an information security training organization and this blog covers infosec subjects so it’s worth mentioning here an excellent event we had not that long ago with Mile2’s Eric Deshetler titled: “How To Crack SIP Authentication & Listen To VoIP Calls In 15-Minutes!”. Eric showed the ‘ease’ at which SIP and the VoIP protocol can be breached using Kali Linux (any OS will actually work) and wireshark.

First on our list is UberConference. UberConference has a nice feature in that you can embed social networking profiles from LinkedIn, Twitter etc., into the conference call which is a nice feature. Another item we liked is that you can, with ease, mute people on the call. All told, we found it to be quite similar to Google+ Hangouts.

A prize goes to next on our list ooVoo for having the best name. What makes ooVoo particularly nice is that you can video chat with up to 12 people as well as record and upload the video (conversations) directly to YouTube.

Third on our list is VSee. VSee has an interesting health angle to VoIP. VSee is HIPAA compliant meaning that private medical interaction can take place, or rather, are recommended to take place. In the United States, HIPAA is a federal law that protects the privacy of personal health information, so taking the approach is certainly very interesting.

Jitsi, fourth on our list, is awesome. Jitsi (which used to be called ‘SIP Communicator’) is rather like pigeon in that it supports a variety of protocols such as SIP, XMPP, AIM, Jabber, ICQ and more. Jitsi is Open Source, completely free (under LGPL) and is even part of Debian SID repositories.

If open source is your thing then go and check out Ekiga. Ekiga, fifth on our list, (which used to be called GnomeMeeting) works on every platform (except mac) and had the honor of being bundled with Ubuntu until Empathy replaced it. Our research shows that Ekiga has a very good reputation with supporting high-quality audio and video codecs.

Sixth on our list, and closely related to Ekiga is Empathy. Empathy, like Ekiga, has a strong Gnome orientation which incidentally is our preferred platform here in the office, with BackBox our preferred Linux OS. One thing we like about Empathy is that it has an IRC chat function.

Seventh on our list is Nimbuzz which seems to prefer mobile than desktop – that seems to be their main ‘thing’.

WeChat, eighth on our list, is a VoIP entrant that has an interesting feature that alerts you when friends are near you – geographically speaking. The platform also allows you to upload photo albums which is a nice touch as well.

Ninth on our list is Viber. Viber is very popular and they have a strong market share on ioS and mobile. Free text messaging seems to be their major ‘selling proposition.’

Tenth, and we kept the best until last, is Google Hangouts. We have been using Google Hangouts on our Hacker Hotshot web show and love it. Nothing more to say on Google Hangouts aside from the fact that we really recommend it and enjoy the fact that it is easy to use and streams right into YouTube, an obvious feature considering that YouTube and Google are one and the same.

Our wild card is BitMessage which we blogged about relatively recently. BitMessage is based on the same peer-to-peer protocol as bitcoin but, from our research, seems to be very secure, so if privacy is your thing (which we hasn’t really covered in this blog post) then go and check out the platform.

In Summary
Clearly the market is getting a little crowded, but let’s face it: Skype is still the Boss. There are others, and as you’d expect, and they are all trying to take slightly different approaches. We’d love to hear what VoIP protocol or service you are using – and as a reminder, if SIP/ VoIP hacking is your thing then you would really enjoy watching our Hacker Hotshot web show which examined the subject in great detail.