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Posts from March 2007

Skype 3.2 beta greatly enhances sound quality with new audio codecs

In my previous post about the Skype 3.2 beta out today, I said this:

I'm sure there will be some other things found in the release, too,

but I had no idea how right that statement was... Jim Courtney over at Skype Journal just posted this "Skype 3.2 Sets New Standard for Sound Quality" and he's not kidding. I just called Jim using Skype 3.2 and spoke to him first using just my laptop mic and speakers and then with my normal mic/headphone setup. In both cases he said the audio quality was excellent (obviously even better with the mic/headphone setup I have). He spoke to me with the setup he describes in his article... sitting back away from his computer a bit and with his microphone situated between speakers. I do have to say that the sound quality was impressive given that Jim is trying to create echoes (I heard none).  Definitely an interesting move on Skype's part... obviously only of use between 3.2 beta users, but it will be interesting as this rolls out into their production software.

In the meantime, if you are a 3.2 beta user and want to give me a call to test it out... I'm certainly interested in listening to the audio quality under different circumstances.  (Skype ID = danyork).

Skype 3.2 beta released with ability to send money via PayPal, video snapshots, etc.

The fruits of the eBay purchase of Skype continue to start appearing... today Skype released a 3.2 beta for Windows (sorry Mac & Linux fans) which has as it's main feature the ability to send money to another user via PayPal (provided both users have PayPal accounts).

Rather than write more here about the feature, I'll just point you over to Skype Journal where Phil Wolff has already provided a walk-through of the Send Money feature (as well as the nice graphic I used in this post). 

It's an interesting addition... as we briefly chatted about in Skype Journal's public chat today, this has a bit of a potential to take some money away from Skype Prime, although probably not much.  If you were in a call and wanted to charge someone for the call, you could ask them to send you money via PayPal.  In contrast to Skype Prime, you could ask them to send you any amount you wanted... and you would get the money immediately (versus the 4-month hold of Skype Prime).  I don't think it will impact Skype Prime too much, though, because the process to send money via PayPal is more involved... Skype Prime makes it extremely simple.  We'll see... personally I think the jury is still out on whether or not people will use Skype Prime.  Time will tell.

As noted in the Skype blog post, the 3.2 beta also simplifies access to your Skype account info.  Previously, you had to login to Skype's web page to do everything... now, as Phil shows in another walkthrough, it's all right inside the Skype client.  There's also an ability to easily update your picture with a webcam directly inside the Skype client, which I'm sure some folks will have fun with.  The Skype blog also indicates you can now import contacts from Hotmail, Yahoo!Mail and GMail... firing another shot across the bow at those three titans of the consumer email world.

I'm sure there will be some other things found in the release, too, but for the moment it seems to be primarily about sending money...  (and anyone who wants to test sending me money via PayPal is welcome to do so... I'll even send it back to you, minus a, say, 10% "experimentation fee" ;-)

Hmmm... VoIP News' "Hacking PBX: 20 Tips" is really "15 Tips and 5 Advertisements"

First, let me state that I like the VoIP News website.  They've been producing a lot of great articles that we pretty regularly talk about over on Blue Box.  Their "50 Most Influential People in VoIP" was a great catalog of the people really moving VOIP forward. Heck, one of their writers even interviewed me and I was quite pleased with the resulting article (something that definitely is not always true).

However, I was rather annoyed to read their "Hacking PBX: 20 Tips and Tricks to Optimize your Business Phone System" article that came out yesterday.  Not because of the content, which was (mostly) actually quite good, but more because the title didn't at all line up with the reality.  Here's the reality:

It's not 20 tips and tricks... it's 15 tips/tricks and 5 advertisements.

Which is too bad, really.  I was really enjoying reading down through the article because these are all good things to have as part of a PBX system (and pretty much all are available through solutions from my employer, Mitel, although we haven't integrated GPS as mentioned in #9 :-).  Everything was cool and useful up through #15...

... and then suddenly with #16 it switched from "tips and tricks to optimize your business phone system" to "here are 5 PBX solutions that you might want to use".  Three of them being open source, of course, (although they might be interested to note that the lead FreeSWITCH developer doesn't view the system as a PBX but more as a core soft-switch) and then two other commercial PBXs being Evolution and Switchvox.  Now I have no real issue with Evolution or Switchvox... in fact, I don't really know much at all about them.  But I guess it comes down to... why them?  There are a ton of companies entering the low-end IP PBX space these days... why these two?  Did they pay for placement?  Were they just the favorites of whomever was writing the article?  What about all the others in the space... both new entrants and existing companies who provide PBX solutions as well?  And for those two, are the $895 and $995 prices truly representative of a system price?  It reads like it's just the server... what about phones?  Licenses for things like voicemail?  What's the real cost?

My annoyance came really at that...  if they had stopped it at 15, I would be writing here about what a great article it was and how these are definitely all things that you should look for in an IP PBX.   Instead, I'm trashing the article for having an inaccurate headline.

I would still suggest you read the article... at least up to #15.  And I'd suggest to VoIP News that they might want to be sure their headlines do in fact reflect the reality of what they are covering.

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Light blogging this week during Cairo trip...

This week, March 19-23, I will be in Cairo, Egypt, to present at a regional conference for Mitel resellers. I expect that I will not be writing much here or on my other blogs during this week.  Of course, if I wind up being stuck in airports that also have WiFi access... or decide that 12-hour airplane flights might be a good place to write... I might wind up posting.  But my expectation is that you won't see much here until next week.  If I post anywhere, I may do what I've done in the past and post a bit of a travelogue to my personal blog and/or my Twitter account.

If any of you reading this happen to be in Cairo this week, do drop me an email as I'm always interested in meeting people in different parts of the world.

Back at you in a week...  I'm off to go sit in planes...

Is OpenID really secure? Can you trust it? A Security Round Table podcast explores the issue... and provides a ton of links

What is OpenID? What are the security issues around it? Should you trust using it? What do you have to be worried about? What are the main security threats to it?

While I've written about OpenID here, I really wanted to understand more about the security issues around OpenID, so I got together with two other members of the Security Round Table, Michael Santarcangelo and Martin McKeay, to explore the issues around OpenID and security to a far greater degree.

We have shared the resulting conversation as a SRT podcast, and have also published as the show notes the large body of links that we accumulated during our preparation for the show.  I'd encourage you to check out the SRT site purely for the links alone, as I think we pulled together one of the more comprehensive lists of links I've seen related to OpenID.

In the end, the three of us came aware quite impressed with the possibilities of OpenID with regard to the specific piece of the identity puzzle that it is aiming to solve.  We hope this podcast helps people understand both the potential benefits as well as a few potential challenges with regard to security and OpenID.  Comments and feedback are very definitely welcome.

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Pulver 100 List showcases new and emerging VoIP companies... (and "MICE" companies...)

As he has done for the past several years, Jeff Pulver today announced the "2007 pulver 100 list" - 100 businesses to watch in 2007.  As usual, his list includes many of the names that you see in the news related to VoIP, IP telephony, etc., but there are also some related to video and others of which I honestly had no clue about until Jeff published the list.  (And still don't because Jeff didn't yet include URLs and I haven't had the time to hunt them down.)    You'll note that Jeff is now calling this entire area "MICE" - "Media, Internet, Communications and Entertainment" which does reflect both Jeff's own evolution of focus but also the way all these industries are colliding together. (He wrote more here.)

The Pulver 100 list generates a good amount of publicity, so congrats to all those companies who are listed on this year's list.

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Blogdesk meme ... Jon Arnold tags me... so I get to talk about phones, too...

Jon Arnold tagged me.  Of course, we really have to blame Luca for starting it and Jeff, phoneboy and others for pushing it along - and Moshe Maeir for adding the phone angle. I don't usually like to play the meme games... but it's Friday, it's lunchtime, I have a horrid cough and generally feel lousy... so I'll take a moment of distraction to blog my setup.  Plus, I get to talk about phones.  So here it is (click for larger view), and courtesy of 5 minutes in PowerPoint I've even numbered the phones.  What you are looking at is two computers with three screens.  The screen in the corner of the room is my rather old home desktop PC.  My (also older) laptop is then connected to the second monitor in the right foreground.  You can see pieces of my podcasting rig, although much of it is hidden by the laptop screen.  I write on either computer depending upon what time of day it is and which of the 5 or 6 different blogs I'm writing in. 


As to the phones, proving that VoIP teleworking can be secure (unlike what thinks), most of the Mitel phones are hanging off of different teleworker servers back up at Mitel's office in Ottawa.  Why do I have so many phones?  Well, part of my job role is to test and experiment... so I'm always trying out new things - and from a security point-of-view, trying to break them.  So here goes the list:

  1. Uniden cordless handset for household land line 
  2. ancient Mitel 5020 that I started using as a secure teleworker set 4 years ago and never bothered to upgrade (see, we protect your investment ;-)... actually, the truth is I got a newer set to replace it and then decided to use that new set as a SIP set instead 
  3. DUALphone for Skype calls (and yes, I could also use it for my land line) 
  4. Mitel 5340 IP phone - connected as a secure teleworker set back to an IP-PBX in Ottawa... excellent phone, great acoustics, backlit 
  5. Mitel 5220 IP phone (now replaced by the 5224) - running in SIP mode and connected to a local SIP proxy 
  6. Mitel Navigator - perhaps the coolest phone I have... see the long silver bar under the monitor - that's the phone!  Handset is off to the right.  Connected as a secure teleworker back into Ottawa.

Plus I've generally got 1 or 2 softphones running on my laptop.   Using our "hot desking" support, I am usually logged in with my extension to either #4 or #6.  Often #6 because the Navigator has the excellent feature of acting as my PCs speakers and allowing me to have music playing in the background - and the music cuts out when a phone call comes in.  Very nice for someone working alone in a home office.

So now, who to tag:

With that, I think I've now down my blog meme playing for 2007....   off to get some cough medicine.

Skype Journal digs into the rates, process and response (mostly bad) to Skype Prime

Phil Wolff over at Skype Journal's been posting some good pieces about Skype Prime:

  • Walking through Skype Prime Beta - takes you step-by-step through the process of setting yourself up with Skype Prime, including screenshots (for all the Mac and Linux users out there!)
  • The Skype Prime Rates - digs into the reality of the rates Skype is charging... along with the 120-day waiting period to be paid... nice graphics, Phil!
  • Skype Prime blog roundup 1 - recounts the blog coverage that's been going on about Skype Prime

Thanks, Phil, for taking the time to pull all this coverage together... excellent thing for "Skype Journal" to do, so thanks!

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SkypePrime - for a 30% cut to Skype, you can charge people to call you and offer fee-based services to the Skype community... (and will it all turn into porn calls?)

UPDATE: Phil Wolff over at Skype Journal has had some great detailed coverage of Skype Prime over at Skype Journal.

News out of Skype today is that a new 3.1 beta includes a new service called SkypePrime, where you can charge someone to call you for either a one-time fee or a per-minute fee.  It also marks the beginning of the frequently-discussed integration of Skype and PayPal, because the payments go into your PayPal account.  However, the payment is deducted from the payer's SkypeCredit (so you are paying in SkypeCredit and the receiver is getting it in PayPal).  Here's the relevant part of the blog entry:

When you call someone who is a Skype Prime call provider, and you both have the new version of Skype, the provider can initiate what we call a “payment request”. That is, all calls start as free, but you can then switch to the paid calling, charging either by the minute or a one-off fixed fee. The call then proceeds as a paid Skype Prime call and your Skype Credit is deducted by the appropriate amount that then goes to the receiver’s account. The provider does not get the call fees directly as Skype Credit — rather, they go into a special holding “box”. The provider then receives the revenue via PayPal.

It's an interesting model that I could see definitely working especialy for consultants, freelancers, etc.  If someone calls you up asking you questions about some topic, you could say "I'd be glad to help you, but to do so I need to charge you for the time."  You click a button or two and, ta da, you're doing small micro-payments deducted directly from your SkypeCredit account. The Skype/PayPal integration facilitates it all and makes it easy.

Of course, Skype isn't giving this service away for free... as noted on the screenshot to the right (click for larger image), they take a 30% cut of any payments.  Note also the list of categories they have set up.   When "Astrology & Spiritual" is the first one, you can imagine the type of calls that Skype is envisioning.  What is interesting to note is the point Skype makes that this is a global service, whereas traditional pay-per-call services are limited to the local nation in which you live.  Hmmm... think the regulators in various countries might not be entirely thrilled about this?  (Since they're conceivably losing their tax revenue to Skype?) Interesting to note that if you are an EU resident, you'll also be charged a 15% VAT tax.

The Service Provider Terms of Service actually goes into more details... right now you can only charge between $0.50 and $2.50 USD per minute or between $0.50 and $12 USD per call... interestingly, Skype bills in increments of 1 minute and rounds up to the next minute after five seconds into the new minute.

It's also interesting that this allows pay-per-call video calls... and the security guy in me immediately has to wonder about the usage of this for the sex/porn trade.  Calls to 900-number-type-of-services - with video - from the privacy of your PC... and all encrypted across the Internet.  Seems like a rather obvious use for that industry.  Of course, Skype prohibits this in section 4 of their Terms of Service, but one has to wonder... if this is all truly peer-to-peer, encrypted, etc., how would anyone else know?  It will curious to see if Skype is able to keep its SkypePrime Service Providers truly clean and adhering to the TOS.

One thing that's missing, curiously, is any kind of mention of a directory.  If I create a SkypePrime service, how can others find that?  Obviously I can advertise it on my web page, etc., but one would think it would have been integrated into SkypeFind or some other (global!) service directory.  Perhaps that is that the next stage... given that this is just the first public beta.

Lots more to digest in the SkypePrime FAQ.  It will be indeed curious to see how much this takes off and whether this does enable people to earn money from the usage.  In the meantime, if you have questions about something like, oh, podcast production, for a mere $2/minute, I'll gladly talk to you... ;-)

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Alec Saunders has videos and summary of ETel "LaunchPad" presentations (new VoIP startups)

Two of the cool "events" at the Emerging Telephony conference last week were the "Mashup Contest" and the "LaunchPad" (sponsored by GigaOm). In both cases new companies or developers were able to show off their products. I was going to write up my thoughts and summary, but it turns out that Alec Saunders posted about all the companies and included video of their presentations.  Definitely worth a look to see what companies are doing around emerging telephony apps and services.  Thanks to Alec for recording them all.

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