Setting up Skype in Linux

Skype is a pain to obtain for some Linux distributions, and is a pain to configure. It doesn’t work well with some audio chipsets, some sound systems, some video drivers, and with many webcams. Their support for and interest in Linux is, to put it politely, weak. If you can, use an open source alternative instead. But if that’s not an option, here’s what I know about taming the Skype beast.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Insure audio and video input and output works. gstreamer-properties is good for this. Ideally, audio input and output will both work with PulseAudio, and video output will work with Xv. TODO: Elaborate on this, possibly giving it a separate article.

Review Skype’s requirements before beginning. Also read the README included in your package. A few specific comments are in order:

  • Video card driver with Xv support: Voice and IM will work without this, but webcams won’t. The Ubuntu wiki provides excellent information on this, including how to test for Xv support. In Skype’s defense, you really ought to have working Xv support whether you use Skype or not.
  • Audio: In the past I have had to disable PulseAudio to get audio working. I have not observed this problem lately, however.
  • When PulseAudio is enabled in the audio settings, only that specific entry will be available; to change the settings, use the PulseAudio manager tool paman.

Regarding webcams, oft-repeated advice is to make sure yours is UVC (USB Video Class) compliant. UVC support has been included into the Linux kernel since 2.6.26. If you have an older kernel and for some reason cannot upgrade, see the Linux UVC project (which also has a list of UVC cams). Other advice is to get a name brand cam (Logitech, HP, and Creative are often recommended). Make sure both the cam and your computer are both USB 2.0 (and not merely 2.0 compatible). Avoid no-name, obviously cheap junk. You can expect to pay $30 for a basic model. Also check Ubuntu’s list of webcams that work out of the box with Skype, the best list of its type I’ve found.

OBTAINING SKYPE
Some distributions’ package managers carry Skype, though these are often old versions and are not kept up to date in their repositories. Compare what your package manager offers you with Skype’s download page, where you will find the latest stable version for officially supported platforms.

The generic dynamic or static binaries on Skype’s download page are said to work, but bypassing your package management system puts your whole box at risk. Don’t try them unless you know what you’re doing. Should you decide to roll the dice, you may find it useful to know that a static build has all the functions it needs compiled into itself, while the dynamic version will use the existing function libraries installed on your system. Try the dynamic build first, which is less likely to overwrite existing files and break things.

Debian and derivatives
Skype has discontinued its repository for Debian without notice. Install the Debian version from Skype’s download page. See the Debian Wiki for more information.

Mandriva and derivatives
Skype does not support Mandriva. Your alternatives are, in order of preference:

  • The Mandriva PowerPack contains Mandriva-specific Skype packages
  • Mandriva Italia Backports has Mandriva-specific packages in its repositories
  • Skype’s Fedora package is reported to work on Mandriva per the reader’s comment below
  • Use alien to convert Skype’s Debian package to RPM

openSUSE
The openSUSE version on Skype’s download page works, although on my hardware configuration is necessary See the openSUSE Support Database for more information.

Ubuntu
My experience with the versions of Skype carried in Ubuntu’s repositories has been positive.

TROUBLESHOOTING
It Skype doesn’t work, your first step is to launch it from a terminal and check the output. This sometimes produces helpful diagnostic messages.

For video issues, see Skype and Web Cameras. It is written from an Ubuntu perspective, but nonetheless is an excellent general resource. Take particular note of the “LD_PRELOAD” advice given. The cited file v4l1compat.so is provided by packages with names such as libv4l or libv4l-32bit, at least on the distributions I’ve used. This advice apparently resolves many users’ problems.

You may find my Skype configuration notes helpful.

USAGE
Have Skype running to make or receive calls. You may leave your media player running. Keep your headset’s microphone unplugged until you wish to speak: otherwise the microphone will be picking up room noise and transmitting them through the speakers, which is annoying and may cause feedback. This is easiest to do if your microphone is plugged in to the front panel.

Before placing a call, or upon receiving a call:

  1. Stop or pause your media player, if playing
  2. Turn off the computer’s speakers
  3. Plug in your headset’s microphone
  4. Stop or slow down anything that is consuming bandwidth, such as downloads in progress

Now place or receive your call as normal. Undo the preceding four steps when the call is finished.

TIPS AND TRICKS
Skype can call toll-free telephone numbers in several countries without having to buy credit. To do so, press “Call ordinary phones”. In the field “Type a number to call”, enter the number in standard international format. For example, to call the number (800) 555-1234 in the U.S., enter “+1 800 555 1234”. Press the green button to dial.

If you are a Pidgin user, you may be interested in the skype4pidgin plugin, which lets you chat with your Skype contacts from within Pidgin. You still need Skype running to use it, but it lets you keep a consistent user interface.

KEEPING UP TO DATE
Skype does not make software repositories available, nor does the “check for updates on startup” configuration option work, so you’ll have to manually fetch updates. Nor does Skype offer an RSS feed for Linux releases, so you’re on your own.

ALTERNATIVES
Is Skype not what you’re looking for? There are alternatives.

REFERENCES
Skype for Linux download page
Skype and Web Cameras is written from an Ubuntu perspective, but nonetheless is an excellent general resource
Skype forensics considers privacy and security issues

Some not very useful references which I list here only for completeness are Skype’s Linux forums and Skype’s Linux help. Even more worrisome are the good references that have gone dark with no explanation nor replacement: Skype’s Linux blog, and the development news blog Linux at Skype Garage. What does that tell you about Skype’s commitment to Linux?

What is somewhat useful is Skype’s issue navigator: filter on “Skype Client for Linux” and “Bug Report”, then press “View”.

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About Warren Post

So far: Customer support guy, jungle guide, IT consultant, beach bum, entrepreneur, teacher, diplomat, over-enthusiastic cyclist. Tomorrow: who knows?
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7 Responses to Setting up Skype in Linux

  1. anonymous says:

    vbmach@bol.com.br writes:The rpm package for Fedora in Skype homepage works just fine in Mandriva.Just need to install, for a pulseaudio integration, the libalsa-plugin-pulseaudio, for 32 bits systems (even if you are under a 64 bits). Here I use Mandriva One 64 bits (from de alternative source) and Skype is working very well.

  2. wpost says:

    Hey, that's good to know. I'll give that a try next time I'm installing Skype on Mandriva. Thanks!P.S. I think that's libalsa-plugins-pulseaudio, with an s.

  3. anonymous says:

    Cinzia writes:Thenk You very much for your instructions. I had only to disable Pulse Audio and now is going all very goodI have'nt a working webcam on my pc, but now I can do calls on the web. Thank you again

  4. wpost says:

    Glad it works for you, Cinzia. Disabling PulseAudio seems to be a common fix for audio.

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