Mac OS X: the Ultimate Communicating Machine
Mac OS X is a strong, very elegant communications platform. Leveraging the power of this platform offers developers a great opportunity to add a new dimension of usability to their applications:
I’d like to see a tight integration with the Mac OS X Address Book, the same way iChat does it. In iChat, I can “Get Info” on a contact, and link the contact to a Mac OS X Address Book contact from the “Address Card” view. More on this in a bit.
Numbers are so 1849
I also wish for a less number and member-centric approach to contact management in their software. Yet I understand they might simply be trying to mimmic Skype’s model to better compete with them.
Much of this issue comes down to how we think of Voice Over IP: Do we think of it as an evolution of today’s number-based and telco-monopoly-controlled phone system (aka PSTN or POTS)? Or do we think of Voice Over IP as yet another useful Internet Application?
I like to think of it as the latter. I’m hoping that the same way people got used to exchanging e-mail addresses, they will just as easily learn to exchange SIP addresses, and I’m hoping computing platforms and communications devices of the future will facilitate this process. They look exactly the same: firstname.lastname@example.org. Depending on who your “provider” is, both can be one and the same. For example, I can receive e-mails, or Internet calls at email@example.com. The fact that the Gizmo Project gives me a “phone number” is a bit confusing to me. It looks like a regular phone number, but nobody can call me at it from a normal phone.
To make matters worse, various SIP providers try to enable their users to call members of other SIP providers by setting-up “peering” numbers, which are extensions you have to type to call somebody from another provider. While a laudable effort, I’d rather tell people they can call me at my EarthLink address from any SIP program or provider by using sip:firstname.lastname@example.org.
I could not find a friendlier global way to call Gizmo Project users beyond email@example.com ( e.g.: firstname.lastname@example.org ). According to Michael Robertson’s manifesto, they’re still working on their identity. At the end of this process, I’m hopeful they’ll have a domain name they’re happy with ( i still think gizmoproject.com is cool ) at which point they might have something friendlier to offer us, such as perhaps “email@example.com”.
Pervasive Contact Management versus “Online Buddy”
Currently, the Gizmo Project software ties the concept of a “Contact” to their version of an “online buddy”. I’m only able to create a “Contact” who belongs to the Gizmo Project system. Ideally, the Gizmo Project software would constantly “look” at Mac OS X Address Book contacts and display all contacts that have a SIP address. So if somebody e-mails me their vCard, and this vCard happens to have a SIP address in it, Gizmo would pick it up as soon as it makes its way into the Address Book. Conversely, when creating a new user in Gizmo, it would be nice to be offered the ability to “link” this new user to a Mac OS X Address Book contact. This process would add their full Gizmo Project SIP address ( such as sip:firstname.lastname@example.org ) to the Mac OS X Address Book entry.
Essentially, managing contacts in the Gizmo Project Software would become a “window” into a user’s Mac OS X Address Book. This would be a bold, challenging roadmap for all makers of SIP-capable software to adopt, but one I’ve got good hopes would open a new world of flexibility and usability.
Imagine your Gizmo Project software’s “Phonebook” tab showing you a list of all people from your OS X Address Book who have a SIP address, regardless of their provider, and next to each one of them, in a “Gizmo Status” column, a little green/orange/red ball indicating their Gizmo online status, and in a 3rd column, a little phone icon next to all contacts, not just Gizmo users, I could click to call the person. I’m hopeful this would convey a key concept:
To place a SIP call to somebody, this person does not need to belong to the Gizmo Project system, and you do not need to know whether or not they are actually “online” and ready to pick-up your call. Most Chat software today is currently blurring this distinction.
Gizmo could push the Address Book concept even further by showing all OS X Address Book contacts that have a phone number, to further monetize their “Call Out” service.
For years we’ve enjoyed unbridled interoperability with e-mail. I can pick e-mail service from thousands of “providers”, and pick e-mail software from hundreds of vendors and authors. I’m hoping SIP will get there. If it doesn’t, I wouldn’t look forward to a world with 10, 100 SIP-powered mini-Skypes with their own seemingly closed ecosystems. You shouldn’t have to join my service provider to communicate with me in real-time. Michael Robertson’s manifesto seems to convey these ideas and ideals. Leveraging open standards to build a great system that works very well was his first gift to us. Here’s to hoping his team is up to the challenge of building an “insanely great” system system that will work very well with others.
For now, I’m a Gizmo fan :) It’s easy to use. It’s a great Mac app. I’ll soon be pestering my parents to get them to install Gizmo on their respective Macs.
MiniSIP: Linux-based SIP stack and libraries, supports encrypted RTP packets (SRTP), Video and more. Various components released under LGPL and GPL. Looks very interesting and promising. If implemented in C, any chance non-GUI components could get ported to Mac OS X/Darwin? (credit: Anonymouse).