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It's one of the world's most popular communications systems. But the company jealously guards its closed, proprietary technology, shunning well-established open industry standards. No, it's not Microsoft and the system isn't Exchange. It's Skype - but the parallels are spooky.

Last month Michael Robertson, scourge of the recording industry, launched an open gateway that allows any SIP-based VoIP system to piggyback onto eBay's closed Skype network. Gizmo's OpenSky gateway achieves this by creating an alias for every Skype user, placing them in a unified namespace. Like the proverbial cat, the Skype protocol is out of the bag, and now anyone can initiate or receive Skype calls on non-Skype software.

(Calls through OpenSky are limited in duration - Robertson is really aiming the gateway at businesses, the same target market as eBay).

This week eBay hit back with an SIP-compatible gateway of its own. But for Robertson, it's the latest in a long line of vapourware announcements that promise to open up the Skype system, but never quite deliver. In September, Skype announced integration software that interfaces with Asterisk, the standards-based software libre PBX software, called Skype for Asterisk. It's still in a limited, closed beta.

You'll recall that Microsoft's Outlook was designed to use simple internet protocols for its email and calendar functions, only wrapped in dense and impenetrable RPC calls, obfuscating communications over the wire. This has successfully maintained Exchange as the "default gateway". Over a decade Microsoft has made regular "interoperability" announcements, and even dabbled in its own version of "open source" - the latter without three of the four freedoms of free software, of course. Skype has also admitted violating the GPL. And as for leveraging one monopoly to create another - well, insert your own punchline.

The irony is here quite rich.

Skype presents itself as a "disruptive" business - but it hates having its own business disrupted by open network standards. The charge of hypocrisy arises because Skype quite likes telling other telecoms companies how to do business, and seeks to make its own definition of "open" into a government-backed regulation. Closed Skype wants open networks, where eBay demands a new industry body to replace existing standards bodies such as 3GPP and the IETF.

Skype has also retaliated with some strongarm tactics: closing down their rival's PayPal account, which many Gizmo callers use to buy call credits.

"They said the products we sell are too questionable which seems quite odd because we sell identical services to what Skype sells," Robertson told us. "We tried to work with them to get our account turned back on but they refused. This is an odd decision to shut us down after we've had a successful account for many years that has moved hundreds of thousands of dollars through it." ®

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