Feb 14, 09 UPDATE: Peter Helfenstein has confirmed that a stand alone is in production. Read the comments section for details.
What irks me about big business is how they sometimes take GPL software, sometimes created by non-profit communities (let’s call it community software), and incorporate it into their product without regard for where the software originated and that community’s sensibilities and social contract.
This is what I feel has happened with the Collanos Phone, a product that I once believed to be a viable GPL replacement for Skype (I even recommended it to others) and the successor to WengoPhone. In fact, I think Collanos Phone was based on much of the same code as was WengoPhone, although the Collanos forum is vague about the exact providence stating, “Collanos Phone is based on many pre-existing open-source components and governed under the General Public License (GPL)”. True, Wengo might not qualify as a “software community” but I understand the code upon which WengoPhone was based was and continues to be community driven (ie., the libgaim library from Pidgin, previously known as Gaim).
If you haven’t clued in yet, Collanos has effectively cancelled the stand alone Collanos Phone. The download page now only mentions, “Collanos Workplace … now includes Collanos Phone”. The first of this that should have sounded bells off is a Dec. 16, 08 email I received from Peter Helfenstein and Franco Dal Molin mentioning the extension of Workplace’s capability to that of video and audio based telephony. It didn’t mention the killing off of the softphone project, but that’s public relations for you. You can “read into” this change-over on Helfenstein’s blog entry from January 28, 09 entitled “Team – It’s Time to Talk“.
Don’t get me wrong, Collanos can drop the phone at any time, and they have all the right to do so. But what irks me is that they’ve incorporated the phone into their Workplace software that is not GPL and how the informal tit for tat social contract has been ignored (see below). Thus, if I want to continue to use their GPL’d tweaked code, I’m forced to use their closed source/proprietary Workplace software. What makes this seem even more crude and questionable is that –and I believe I followed most pertinent forum announcements and postings– is that there was never mention of consolidating the two programs. In fact, everything leads “me” to believe that the Phone was to remain just that, a stand alone Phone, what with forum moderators or tech help announcing that Mac specific problems were going to be solved come the stable release, and how close they were to this (in 2008).
The alluded to stable stand alone Collanos Phone release never came, and the associated forum postings seem to have been eliminated. Instead, the GPL’d phone was consolidated into the closed source Workplace. This melding of GPL and closed source software goes entirely against the spirit of the GPL, and happens thanks to legal wrangling around loop-holes.
Maybe they should have their software (do I sound outraged?), considering, that the Mac Tiger version of Workplace 1.4 (still) doesn’t have telephony working, “NOTE: On Mac OS X 10.4.x “Tiger” Collanos Phone (VoIP Features) isn’t working”. Shameful.
The GPL obligates the availability of the source code and thus –CollanosPhone being GPL licensed– this is an obligation, with which one could try to build releases. To compare Wengo with Collanos … Wengo made their phone product source (and binaries if I recall) available from openwengo.org long after their project was cancelled. Since then, QuteCom has taken this duty over. (More on this further down.) If the CollanosPhone source is publicly accessible, where is there mention of it? What about basic manners? or reciprocal action, “You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours”, which translates to “You work for us for free trying our alpha and beta softphone and report on bugs and in exchange we’ll stabilise it and release it for you to use?”.
Code changes may have been rendered back up stream, but at first glance it looks as if they’ve incorporated GPL software without giving back, at least one can’t tell due to the lack of any mention on their webpage. I haven’t checked a beta README but I feel it will not be revealing. Let’s check right now. To put it in American speak … Nope, there ain’t no README, just a INSTALL INSTRUCTIONS.txt that concerns dragging the app over to the Applications directory for installation.
There are other FLOSS alternatives and they seem to be getting numerous. Unfortunately most do not target the OS X platform. I’ll try to list them in a later article. But there are two that deserve mentioning. First QuteCom has taken over the WengoPhone code (as already noted). An OS X port is being worked on, although there has yet to be a build that actually starts on my Tiger install. (They’re probably Leopard only binaries. Oh come on OS X developers! Get on the ball for … sakes!)
SIP Communicator which is nearing a stable release despite still being labelled alpha. You can get nightly releases. I’m already using one as my standard IM client. I haven’t tried its telephony capability but it’s going to support both SIP and IAX, from the looks of things, and even going to be able to call google’s softphone (which uses a deprecated implementation of IAX). It’s also Java based so it offers cross-platform interoperability, meaning you can initiate and receive calls from Windows, Gnu-Linux, or OS X users in any series of combinations.The other worthy of mention is
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