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How to break free from Skype

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Avoid being locked in as Microsoft turns off Windows Messenger

On April 8, Microsoft will discontinue its Windows Messenger service. All current users will be switched to Skype. The Free Software Foundation Europe advises former users of Windows Messenger to take this as an opportunity to embrace Open Standards such as Jabber (XMPP) instead of switching to Skype.

"Crucial technology should not be controlled by a single entity, but instead rely on the sort of Open Standards that have made the Internet great" says Matthias Kirschner of FSFE. "MSN users should switch to Open Standard technologies, like the XMPP protocol, and Free Software chat programs." The Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP, previously called Jabber) is widely deployed across the Internet. This standard is not closed or secret; it is governed by an independent foundation with many stakeholders. It can be implemented in any software, and not only gives users the choice of which client to use, but also which servers to trust.

By switching all users to Skype, Microsoft is replacing one locked down technology with another. Acquired by Microsoft in 2011, the proprietary Skype software is widely used for audio and video communication, as well as chatting. Its workings are secret and substantial efforts are made to prevent reverse engineering. Skype's services have serious drawbacks. Their closed, secured-through-obscurity protocol takes freedom away from users. Skype's technology forces people to join the walled garden in order to keep communicating with others, and locks them in. It also makes oversight and checks by communities or independent experts nearly impossible. "Microsoft and Skype have absolute control over all communications going through their network," says FSFE's Torsten Grote. "Once aggregated, the power given to Skype by each individual user endangers freedom on a global scale. Skype is already abusing this power with attacks on privacy, data retention , censorship, and eavesdropping."

The ability to communicate freely is vital, and this is just what Open Standards-driven communication methods such as XMPP provide. People that have the ability to run their own XMPP server are strongly encouraged to do so. The more distributed the XMPP network is, the more resistant it is to censorship and failures. People who prefer not to run their own server are invited to use an XMPP service provider that they trust. FSFE, for example, provides a XMPP server for all their Fellows. "The technology that we rely on should never be controlled by only one entity. Ideally we all control it together. We should be careful not to build new walled gardens." says Grote. "Most companies already agree on XMPP. Only the companies that want to lock-in their users go their own way on this. Even Facebook uses XMPP, but unfortunately they still don't allow their users to talk to people outside of Facebook."

How to move to a Free Software chat solution based on Open Standards :

  1. Download a free client
  2. Install it and start it
  3. If you don't have an existing XMPP account, log in to one of the many public XMPP services using your preferred username. Your client will automatically create the account
  4. Add your contacts
  5. Start chatting with others on the XMPP network!