Flexibility, Interoperability in Communications

A few posts back, I gave a layman’s overview of SIP, attempting to convey how important it is, and how it will revolutionize how we communicate in real-time.

On the other side of the Voice over IP fence, there is Skype. Skype is fun, and likely, up until now the most user-friendly way to make free online calls. But it’s a closed platform, a closed protocol. Skype is to real-time communications what Compuserve was to electronic messaging in the early 90’s: a closed ecosystem.

The SIP protocol, by its open nature, enables various providers to interoperate and compete for your loyalty, so you might shop for SIP services the exact same way you’ll shop for e-mail services. This open protocol also enables every industrious Software Author in the World to build best-of-breed real-time communications tools. These tools are coming. For all platforms. Mac. Linux. Windows. Developers are working around the clock to be the first-to-market with the next Skype-killer, in a race to earn your loyalty.

But the race to SIP doesn’t stop at the computer. Think handheld devices. Think beyond numeric keypads. Imagine never thinking of people in terms of their “cell phone number”, their “home number”, imagine no-longer having to worry about how you’ll be contacting somebody. Imagine devices with high-resolution screens and scroll wheels such as the one you’ll find on your iPod or BlackBerry, showing you people’s names and faces.

Write-down somebody’s phone number? nah. Have’em “beam” you their vCard over Bluetooth or Infrared. Paste someone’s SIP or e-mail address in a program? nah. Their vCard will be embedded in their web page, a simple click adds their contact information to your computer’s Address Book, which instantly gets synchronized to all your smart handheld devices and online address books. Mac OS X takes us largely there. Here’s my vCard.

As SIP opens a world of granular control, flexibility and interoperability for humans to get in touch with one-another, supporting this protocol will encourage device manufacturers and software vendors to build systems and standards which allow users to no-longer have to think in terms of “phone number”, “cell number”, “SIP number”, as processes for capturing such information will be largely automated and transparent to us.

The revolution starts with you. Learn about what SIP can do for you. Seek out SIP Providers. Seek out SIP software vendors. Try’em all out.

There’s a new player in the SIP field. It’s the Gizmo Project. Their Mac OS X software is very good, albeit still in beta. As most other OS X voice apps do, Gizmo lets you pick any audio input/output device you’ve registered with OS X. It works like a charm with my Motorola HS810 headset. I’ve heard their Windows version is awesome too. They’ve got a true potential to become the next Skype-killer. Just download the program, launch it, create your account, and type someone’s SIP address in the field, or add their username in the contact list. With Skype, you can only chat with users you’ve added to your contact list. Gizmo doesn’t require you to do that, because SIP and SIP addresses rule!

It’s very common for SIP providers to release their own SIP software and encourage you to mostly chat with their other members. This is a trend which I hope will go away in favor of making it even easier and convenient for users from disparate providers to chat with one-another, as it is the nature of the SIP protocol. If a SIP provider is a true SIP provider, it’s typically a matter of a couple of minutes to find out how you can send and receive SIP calls to and from SIP users who belong to other providers.

Any SIP user can call-up a Gizmo Project user by plugging sip:gizmo_username@proxy01.sipphone.com or sip:gizmo_number@proxy01.sipphone.com in their SIP program.

Gizmo users can omit the @ part when calling each-other, and/or just double-click on a contact’s icon.

Convenience, Flexibility, this thing has it all. Now, if Gizmo Project.app was able to save SIP addresses to and extract them from the Mac OS X Address Book, we’d have an absolute slam-dunk.

SIPphone.com’s CEO Michael Robertson has a very cool manifesto at http://sipphone.com/thecall/

If you care to provide your own SIP services, you might check out iptel.org.

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