Speak Freely has been an early (and public domain) Voice over IP tool, available for both Unix and Windows systems, with strong encryption of the data transmitted. It worked for me when I played around with it some years ago — as opposed to more polished and more recent VoIP software I tried. Speak Freely’s life is going to end, at least as far as its original author, John Walker — who founded Autodesk –, is concerned.
Most notably, the end of life announcement quotes an anticipated end of the end-to-end Internet as one of the reasons to discontinue a tool which relies on it.
Writes Walker: The Internet of the near future will be something never contemplated when Speak Freely was designed, inherently hostile to such peer-to-peer applications. … any machine connected to the Internet could act as a client, server, or (in the case of datagram traffic such as Speak Freely audio) neither–simply a peer of those with which it communicated. Any Internet host could provide any service to any other and access services provided by them. New kinds of services could be invented as required, subject only to compatibility with the higher level transport protocols (such as TCP and UDP). Unfortunately, this era is coming to an end. One need only read discussions on the Speak Freely mailing list and Forum over the last year to see how many users, after switching from slow, unreliable dial-up Internet connections to broadband, persistent access via DSL or cable television modems discover, to their dismay, that they can no longer receive calls from other Speak Freely users. The vast majority of such connections use Network Address Translation (NAT) in the router connected to the broadband link, which allows multiple machines on a local network to share the broadband Internet access. But NAT does a lot more than that.
A user behind a NAT box is no longer a peer to other sites on the Internet. Since the user no longer has an externally visible Internet Protocol (IP) address (fixed or variable), there is no way (in the general case–there may be “workarounds” for specific NAT boxes, but they’re basically exploiting bugs which will probably eventually be fixed) for sites to open connections or address packets to his machine. The user is demoted to acting exclusively as a client. While the user can contact and freely exchange packets with sites not behind NAT boxes, he cannot be reached by connections which originate at other sites. In economic terms, the NATted user has become a consumer of services provided by a higher-ranking class of sites, producers or publishers, not subject to NAT.
There are powerful forces, including government, large media organisations, and music publishers who think this situation is just fine. In essence, every time a user–they love the word “consumer”–goes behind a NAT box, a site which was formerly a peer to their own sites goes dark, no longer accessible to others on the Internet, while their privileged sites remain. The lights are going out all over the Internet.
I just hope this pessimism is unnecessary, and he’s not describing the Internet in, say, 5 years here. But I’m not convinced. Still, preserving an end-to-end Internet is worth fighting for.