Peer-to-peer telephony company Skype, has taken its first steps into the open source world by launching a beta version for Linux.

The free software is now available for SuSE 9, Gentoo 1.4, Debian, Fedora Core 2, and Sun Java Desktop System. It will offer the same features that the Windows version of the product does, although Linux users would not be able to host conference calls.

"We’ve had strong demand for a Linux version of Skype since debuting the Skype beta 10 months ago," said Niklas Zennstr"m, Skype's CEO and co-founder. A Skype spokesman added that the company couldn’t judge exactly how much demand there had been from Linux users but that it was significant. "We haven’t quantified the demand, but our user forums and incoming emails have been rife with Linux requests. Skype keeps a close eye on user requests and takes them very seriously and Linux has consistently been up there in the most requested 'features'."

The company is also considering the possibilities of using Skype within enterprises. The spokesman said that although the product had been designed with consumers in mind, the company was beginning to turn its attention to the enterprise. He said that the technology was particularly appealing to small and medium enterprises who had established "virtual" teams.

He denied that there was an overhead problem with peer-to-peer telephony (as there had been with KaZaa) as the technology only used about 3-16Kbit/s on average, although he added that factors such as bandwidth available for the other party, network conditions and CPU performance would also play a part. The spokesman said that the use of Skype would not compromise an enterprise’s security as the system was fully secure.

But the technology does run into security problems of another kind. The trouble is that corporate firewalls set to block P2P traffic, such as music sharing, would also block Skype traffic, thus limiting its potential as an enterprise product. Of course, much of the thrust towards IP telephony in the enterprise has been driven by SIP proponents and proprietary products such as Skype are set to the rock the boat.

But the real question that should be asked about the use of Skype for Linux is surely, since when did Linux users have that many friends to talk to?