Musings of an Internet Marketing Consultant
Musings of an Internet Marketing Consultant

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

VoIP and a Windows Audio flaw

Over the past month I have had need to look for a voice setup that:
  • is simple to use by non-technical personnel in a (small) office environment
  • allows the user to access both conventional PSTN phone connections as well as a VoIP connection
  • can instantly launch a VoIP or PSTN call from Outlook Contacts or a contact information in a web page in a web browser (IE, Firefox, etc.)
  • provides presence status, in either Outlook Contacts and/or Internet Explorer
  • allows the user to also listen to their traditional audio via Windows Media Player, Real Audio, MusicMatch, iTunes, etc.
  • does an automatic selection of audio devices associated with, say, the VoIP service and turns off the traditional audio when a call comes in
  • allows the user to select which headset/phone handset to use for voice calls along with traditional (Windows) audio functions
  • allows the user to have (remote) wireless audio connection to the source of the VoIP or phone service (whether a PC or dedicated handset).

  • OK, so this is a dream configuration but came closer to reality with all the announcements at CES last week. In the course of this search I have acquired and been evaluating a Linksys CIT200 Skype phone and a PhoneGnome setup.

    The Linksys CIT200 Skype Phone brought home a fundamental problem with Windows that was first mentioned by Martin Geddes in a recent Telepocalypse post:

    “I bought a Plantronics DSP-400 USB headset a while back. It came ‘Skype certified’ together with a small SkypeOut credit. I’m still happy with it. But it’s also very annoying to use. Because I like to listen to music from my laptop with real, quality headphones. Sometimes I unplug the headset when I move my laptop about, or want to use it on another PC, and Windows takes note and resets my audio devices to point to the built-in stuff. No matter how often I set my preferences in Skype to “Plantronics headset”, it keeps being turned back to Windows default each time I unplug. This is, needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), not a good experience.”

    My Linksys Skype Phone also came with small SkypeOut credit (which readily got added to my already implemented SkypeOut credits). However, the Windows audio setup is something else. When you install the software for the Skype Phone, it automatically changes both your Skype "Sound Devices" Options and your default Windows audio device to “CIT200” (from my normal SigmaTel Audio that drives my onboard or headset speakers/microphone. In this mode, none of the traditional audio will work (at least provide audio to my headset/laptop speakers). If I change the Windows default back to SigmaTel Audio, the Skype Phone sees the Skype Contacts; but the audio does not work. After trying various Windows Audio configurations I found:
  • The only way the Skype Phone sees the directory is if the Sound Devices in Skype Options is set to “CIT 200”,
  • The only way to get Skype Phone audio connections is to set the Windows Audio default to “CIT200”.
  • The only way to listen to Windows Media Player or other traditional audio players is to set Windows Audio default to SigmaTel.

  • Of course I also have several different physical devices for making the audio connection:
  • A PC headset to plug into my laptop for normal Windows Audio services
  • A Bluetooth headset that could work with Skype using the vitaero Skype Bluetooth headset driver (mono only with my Motorola HS820)
  • A Linksys CIT 200 phoneset (with a phone headset jack) for Skype use away from my PC (it does come with a wireless USB adapter)
  • A traditional phone handset (Nortel two-line that is about 12 years old)
  • Lots of audio hardware on my desk (but no DSP-400)!

    I would like to see a Windows client that:
  • Automatically switches the Windows Audio amongst the various applications using Windows Audio as appropriate when the application comes up. (Would need rules to be setup but there can be a default set of rules.)
  • Automatically switches the connection to the appropriate headset that I happen to be using (in conjunction with the hardware box I am about to suggest)

  • And a piece of (USB-connected) hardware that can have the various headsets as inputs (microphone) and outputs (speakers or earpieces), software selectable from the Windows client above.

    And, of course, to meet all my requirements, Skype for Outlook Toolbar and Skype for Internet Explorer Toolbar with appropriate API’s.

    Will anyone take up the challenge? Skype (via their certification program requirements)? Linksys? Plantronics? PhoneGnome? D-Link? Creative? Any of those new (Skype hardware) vendors showing at CES? Or even Microsoft (maybe an opportunity for hardware along the lines of how the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard products have become a market staple.)?

    And, Microsoft, will you be able to address what amounts to a fundamental flaw in Windows Audio with respect to having a much more user friendly way to switch amongst audio devices than “Control Panel > Sounds and Audio Devices, select the Audio Tab and use the drop down boxes?” Not only for Windows Vista but also backwards compatible to Windows XP and 2000?

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