The Skype Home 5.5 mess and other upgrade pains

Like a lot of people recently, I started up Skype last week and it automatically updated itself to 5.5 (from 5.3).  Now, I had tried one of the initial betas of 5.5, but it excluded a dial pad to make DTMF tones and its Facebook integration was fairly intrusive (I certainly don’t need an alert/toast message every time someone logs on to Facebook) so I downgraded and forgot about it until it was automatically installed.

Thankfully my dial pad had rematerialized, as had an option to exclude Facebook from showing alerts. 

Skype Home is the unwelcome guest that won’t leave
But, the first thing that was thrown at me was the ‘Skype Home’ window:

Skype Home

The purpose of the Skype Home window is to show your most recent contacts for easy access and any status updates they’ve posted.   In the earlier 5.0 betas, there was an outcry over this same window and the feature was less intrusive in the final release.  Now, it’s back with a vengeance. 

Not only can you not turn it off from displaying every time you sign in, the window also periodically opens on its own, which in some cases will interrupt what you’re doing.

One important detail of note – to see this behaviour you have to switch to Skype’s “Compact View” (see the View menu for the option).  This isn’t the default viewing option in Skype, and presumably one of the reasons why it has not gotten much attention.  But a big problem of this is, a good chunk of the business (that is, paying) users of Skype I know prefer Compact View and they’re the ones who pay Skype’s bills presently.

A bug was filed against this “feature” on Skype’s bug tracker on the 11th of this month and so far 179 comments have been left.  A lot of the comments blame Microsoft (since most of people consider them the current owner of Skype, despite the acquisition not having gone through yet) and even cite Messenger out for the “feature”. 

For example, BartVP says, “Features like this will see Skype’s user experience go down the path of ICQ and MSN in a matter of days, leaving me no choice but to switch to Google Voice or other competitors for phone and messenger use.”  Matt Langley asks people in the discussion, “How many people do you know who still use MSN since it started to get bloated? It’s a show stopper and there are alternatives.”  And indeed, many people indicate they’ve uninstalled Skype and have started using Google Voice or other SIP providers to make calls. 

We don’t want you to sign out either
Also missing after the upgrade was Skype’s Windows 7 jump list:

Before:
before

After:
after

Before you could quickly sign out or shut down Skype by just right-clicking the menu and choosing the option, but with this gone, you now have to travel to the notification area icon (by default hidden by Windows 7) and do it there. 

I installed Skype 5.5 on a new Windows installation (that is on, one which had never had Skype on it), and the jump list magically appeared on that machine, so this is strictly a problem upgrading from previous versions.  I’ve only done a small bit of investigation so far to get it to re-add its jump list, but no success yet.  But if you’re suffering from this problem, you can use a tool like Jumplist Extender to add the option back yourself (use Skype.exe /shutdown as the command line) until this problem is resolved.

Going forward
A lot people have invested in the Skype platform.  They run their businesses from it, they have incoming numbers directed towards it, they use it for conference calls with friends or for online gaming.  Even people like myself have gotten used to answering incoming calls using Skype Call Button or other software solutions which depend on Skype.

Switching away from that ecosystem (and there are plenty of alternatives) can be almost impossible without another big investment and so I don’t think Skype has much to worry about (their future is guaranteed by Redmond), but these blunders just do more to damage their reputation. 

Beyond user interface problems, Skype has suffered a number of outages over the past few years, and I think the Messenger service is actually more stable “outage-wise” than Skype for the time being (and you can turn off the Live Today screen). 

If it were up to me, as they move towards being owned by the Microsoft Corporation, I think they should freeze all feature development and concentrate on fixing these and other longer-term bugs.  Certainly I think the Skype user base would be much happy if they did.

Posted on August 22, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Jamie Thompson

    Hi Jonathan:

    Cool to hear that you have some involvment in Skype as well as MSN messenger [aka windows live messenger.
    Personally I did not want to upgrade my Skype and rolled it back to 5.0 when it automatically updated. I dislike the change in the features, and the only reason im using 5.0 instead of an older version is so i can video conference with some of my contacts without a compatibility issue.
    I am hoping as you are , that Microsoft might take the bull by the horns and clean up the buggyness of Skype.

    • Greetings Jamie. Yeah, given the rather large investment that’s been made, I very much doubt the Skype application we see today will exist in the same fashion in 3-4 years from now (perhaps even less). Skype (the company) has generally proven their technology is portable and given the amount of hardware and software platforms they support, including even being shoehorned into Facebook, can probably be equally extended into a new or existing Microsoft software.

      One other small gem that I haven’t seen mentioned is that they inherit the Skype peer to peer network and software, which could be quite useful when dealing with connecting PCs to other PCs for synchronization, things like Remote Assistance, and other scenarios where direct connections can be a challenge. Microsoft’s attempts in the past to do this (UPnP, Teredo, etc.) haven’t proved as resilient.

  2. They also took away the call volume slider for some idiotic reason. And why did they take away option to share only part of your screen or one window instead of only being able to show the entire screen? These updates are getting dumber and dumber.

    • Greetings Rob. Yeah, I noticed the sliders thing too, but did find them — they show up when you click the “call quality information” button and go to the Microphone or Speaker tab. This is really just more of the “lets make it less bloated looking, more like a mobile application” trend that’s been going on in software development for quite some time. Something that really doesn’t make a lot of sense in software like Skype when it’s on PC. Mind you, they seem to have forgotten this with regards to the Skype Home window.

      One aspect I haven’t fully been able to comprehend is that a good number of these problems can generally be chalked up to the developers or those in management not actually using the product they’re working on. But surely, those working at Skype would use their own product and equally be annoyed. So I’m not entirely sure…

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