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Skype 5 for Mac blocks all webcam access by Flash. Skype says it is "by design" (skype.com)
193 points by lukeinth on Jan 31, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 87 comments

Thought I would pass on a word of warning about the recently released Skype 5 for Mac. Once installed, if Skype 5 is running (even in background), it will block Flash from being able to access your webcam. This breaks quite a few popular web applications. Unfortunately users will think the problem is caused by Flash, when it is actually caused by Skype.

Examples of sites and applications broken by Skype 5.

* http://www.dailybooth.com - core feature of the site

* http://www.facebook.com - webcam record and "take a photo" feature

* http://www.picnik.com - image editors that have import from webcam

* http://www.webcamsnapper.com - webcam photo widget used by brizzly, dailybooth, many other sites. (disclosure: my company built this app)

* adobe connect, dimdim, etc - online meeting apps

Skype has been aware of this issue since the release of the beta in November and yet they have not fixed it before the general release. According to their issue tracker they say this new behavior is "by design".


In the old Skype (2.8) this was not a problem, so something has changed. If indeed this is not a bug and is "by design" then it is a very worrying move. Imagine for a moment things were reversed. Say for instance a new release of Flash stopped all video calls working in iChat or Skype. People would be outraged, Gruber would have a heart attack.

Just to be 100% clear, Skype doesn't need to be in a video call for it to block webcam access by Flash. It simply needs to be running. The only fix is to shut down Skype then reload your browser. After this the webcam will start working again in Flash. The only long term fix is to uninstall Skype 5 and install an older version.

More discussion of the issue in Skype forum: http://forum.skype.com/index.php?showtopic=782411

Here's a suggested "work-around" (if you can call it that) - it's far from ideal...

In actionscript you can:

  detect whether there are webcams present on the system
  examine the pixels output by the webcam
So you could add some logic along the lines of:

  if (hasWebcam && imageFromWebCamIsAllBlack){
     showMessage([pick your own verbiage] + ' Skype v5')
Not ideal, but maybe better than nothing? Beware - the list of cameras reported to Flash often includes junk (e.g. 'Google Camera Adapter 1', and more on Mac), so you need to filter those from your list. Happy to give HN contributors some pointers on how to do that, for free. My Skype handle is my HN user name with a dot inserted in the obvious place.

>> about the recently released Skype 5 for Mac.

Note that one commenter observes:

"This also affects windows users, its not just Mac."

I've been trying to track down intermittent issues with webcam+flash on my Windows PC, looks like I need to investigate Skype. Thank you!

To be fair, Beom Soo Park just posted a follow-up comment correcting his mistake in not calling it a bug.

"I have to rectify the term I used before, this issue found to be a "bug", not "by design", We are working on the issue and will be fixed in future updates. Sorry for making confusions.

Thank you"

If true, it would seem that this simple misdescription has been blown out of proportion.

I wouldn't call it a "simple misdescription." It changed the entire meaning of the sentence and probably prevented it from getting fixed for release. It's about as big a mistake as you can make in a bug tracker.

Is Skype offshoring major development duties? That would be a serious red flag in my book.

http://ww.com/ is also affected and we've already seen some support requests about this.

Um, slight bit of NSFW failure here: http://i.imgur.com/dN2rw.png

Are you taking a serious hit from this, or is it too new still?

The mac is fortunately not the largest part of the users but it's definitely something we can see.

Hopefully they'll bow to the pressure of all the UIs they broke. This is a fear that alot of us have, of course: a seemingly capricious change (meaning unforeseeable to us) breaks our UI for our customers. Good luck with that.

OT: That stock photo that I was just greeted with was creepy and a major turn off for me looking at the site any further at all.

While we're at it, images displayed while in "Child friendly mode" ought not show ball sack. http://i.min.us/ibQ0Ci.png

God, and ALL of the top links take me to a "PAY ME MONIES" page? And I have to browse 6 at a time with nothing but a thumbnail? I'd sad I wasted the time to sign up to be frank...

"Safe" picture scanning is so hard that even Google fails at it frequently. Searching for "meat spin" on Google Images with SafeSearch Strict mode on yield several "interesting" images on just the first page..

It's a static photo...

Perhaps they could offer a small separate sort of "Flash Guard" utility for the blocking function. We consider the possibility of rogue Flash code opening the camera and/or microphone to be a security vulnerability. Being able to block those globally is a "feature" some need.

Of control of hardware access should be by user choice only, not a side effect of an app. Counting on stored Flash settings isn't an option since many use Better Privacy (Firefox extension) or other utilities to delete Flash storage, including the settings, due to the stalking features.

How can rogue Flash code open the camera or microphone without prompting? On http://www.macromedia.com/support/documentation/en/flashplay... the only two options are Always Deny and Always Ask.

I have no idea what Skype was thinking with version 5 of their client. It is atrocious.

There is so much white space, if your Instant Messenger client takes up more screen space than a web browser, you're probably doing something wrong.

Download version 2.8 - http://mac.oldapps.com/skype.php

I couldn't believe my eyes after I installed Skype 5 yesterday. Not only was the user experience confusing, but it was much more difficult to use, despite them trying hard to make it more userfriendly. For instance, I spent a minute trying to figure out how to send an instant message. I clicked on the person's green button, that gave me a dropdown box with "Send instant message". When I clicked this, nothing happened. Turned out that the instant messages were hidden and I had to drag that part of the window up so it becomes viewable. Stuff like that...

The PC version is getting bleh too. I had to ask my friend how to find the pm messages when he was showing me his screen the other day.

+1 for giving the link to the previous version.

It is in fact atrocious, for a mainstream piece of software. Many of us gave them feedback that the new client is WAY too generous with the space, at least for us with more than 5 contacts online. They did very little from the beta to the general release.

More so than the whitespace, the multi-window approach is a pain in the ass. It gets worse when you are calling someone. Goodluck managing even the most trivial things such as finding where your video window went(oh there it was, hiding behind the text window, the contact list and the a dozen others).Seriously, it's gotten to a point where this thing is plain usable. This thing with the camera is just latest in a string of mis-steps by Skype. If it is indeed by design, the attempt to sabotage rival platforms and tools is reflective of a very dangerous mentality. Sad !

the biggest news in Skype 5 for Mac is that it is single-window, and that's the main reason many hate it (not me).

Skype never made good client software for apple's devices, so it's not surprising. All versions have major UX flaws and iphone app is very buggy and slow/freezing for example.

The biggest issue I have is that they seem to have this idea of 'keep your chats open even when you're not around'; then when I open Skype on my iPhone, it downloads the last month of chat history, one message at a time, and is slow and useless (and chews up bandwidth, CPU, and battery) until I give up on it.

It's horrible design, and I can't help but think that no one at Skype has actually used it for anything, which seems improbable. I've heard that the Android version does the same thing as well. It's just terrible.

Have you read the comments on their "skype 5 for mac" forum? http://forum.skype.com/index.php?showforum=313

It's really impressive to me they could publish such a terrible UI.

What they had in mind was the 90% of their users who only have 5 contacts in their contact list and the 95% of their users who only use the text area to write "Can I call you"

In other words Skype is designed for the 90% not us 10%

If you want to get a sense of how bad thing at Skype have gotten, check out this thread on their site.


It's their "big announcement", and it's followed by the longest, and most vitriolic stream of comments from people who are appalled by the terrible design. It's the only thing 9/10 comments even mention.

The amazing thing is that near the bottom, their "Blogger in Chief" Peter Parks provides a point-by-point reply to each of the comments that didn't mention the UI (there are a handful), while completely ignoring the issue receiving all the attention. He actually gets called out on this, only to come back with half-baked line about "your thoughts about the new UI are very valuable to the Mac team here."

Which, of course, is total bullshit. They're the exact same comments the Mac team received by the boatload and promptly ignored during the beta.

Well, I wouldn't just state that they ignored them. I find it equally probably that someone higher up in the company has dictated that this is to be the interface, or that their designers take forever to actually design anything, so a redesign was out of the question (without pushing back the release date, which could be argued to have been necessary).

Over here skype is the #1 business messenger. Text-chat dominates voice and video by far, and most users have dozens or even hundreds of contacts ("everyone else in the company").

It seems unlikely to me that all these companies amount to only 10% of overall skype usage.

Where is here? The most common business messenger in my experience has been Office Communicator. It's everywhere that Exchange and Outlook are.

It seems to be really popular in Europe. Virtually every single European company I've worked with has communicated over Skype.

Where is here?

Europe. "Do you have skype?" is mostly a rhetoric question around here when asked in a business context.

Seems quite popular in Canadian business circles too.

I am just telling you what the numbers are.

See, I’ve heard this before, but I’m

1) not sure it’s true this is the case (show me the numbers or concrete reasoning), and

2) more importantly, I believe this is a flawed approach because it’s in Skype’s best interest for users to have lots of active contacts/friends/numbers in the system. Why design in such a way that discourages desirable behavior?

It’s a failed design, and I don’t think that supposed 90% rule really applies

Sometimes the benefits are only apparent later one.

What is failed about it?

It's different yes. But what is failed about it?

The fact that you recognize it as unworkable “for us 10%” indicates a failure.

I don't know what makes you think I recognize it as unworkable. Think you are reading too much into what I wrote.

As the developer of a web app that uses the webcam through flash, I am already mentally preparing myself for the flood of support requests that inevitably will come.

Maybe Skype should become classified as malware. This is only the latest in a series of huge bugs because Skype tries to integrate with every application.

Their Firefox plugin has already been blocked: https://www.mozilla.com/en-US/blocklist/

"Beom Soo Park added a comment - 31/Jan/11 2:21 PM I have to rectify the term I used before, this issue found to be a "bug", not "by design", We are working on the issue and will be fixed in future updates. Sorry for making confusions.

Thank you"

1. Three months ago, a Skype customer reports a terrible, hostile, unreasonable problem with the new client via official Skype bug tracker

2. Company rep asks, “Can you provide us your feedback? You can send feedback through Skype Menu -> Provide Skype Feedback … Thanks” and provides not a glimpse of insight into why the customer is being asked to submit this complaint elsewhere instead of the rep just, you know, doing his job and getting the message wherever it needs to be, himself.

3. Customer: WTF, didn’t I just do that here?

4. Support person: “Currently, this [issue] is by design.”

5. Other users express outrage, and this is posted to HN today

6. Today, rep “rectifies” previous statement and says it is a “bug, not by design.”

(Can we get something to the HN front page about Skype for iPhone’s terrible behavior of loading all chat messages in chronological order, taking literally half an hour before the app is usable?)

> (Can we get something to the HN front page about Skype for iPhone’s terrible behavior of loading all chat messages in chronological order, taking literally half an hour before the app is usable?)

The iPhone app does that too? The Android app doesn't do it until you open a conversation... but it does it every time you switch to that conversation, making it utterly unusable and potentially embarassing!

"To ſay it is ‘by deſign’ is not an acceptable anſwer. Your proprietary, inflexible, ſecret piece of ſoftware takes control of ðe uſer’s hardware wiþout his conſent, and ¿you do not even offer a reaſon for ðat?"

I'm trying really hard to figure out what localization this guy's keyboard is set to.

I think it is some sort of pseudo-attempt at a spelling reform movement, very silimiar to this http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2357504854 but even that doesn't have the s/ſ and ¿? changes.

Particularly ridiculous when you notice that he uses "ſ" for the S in both "software" and "design." Wouldn't a reformed spelling use different symbols for the two sounds?

English -700 years with a touch of spanish?


For once, i am rather happy with skype devs not putting too much effort in the linux version. Hope it stays that way...

Never had a big problem with the Linux version. It does video, with good quality, and that's all you really need Skype for, a flashy UI or other pointless features just detracts from Skype's main purpose.

Totally agreed. I used to be annoyed by the absence of SMS support in one of the previous versions. I havent bothered checking whether it is present now, since I no longer need that feature anyway.

They've promised to open-source the UI and put out most of the functionality in a blob that the UI talks to, maybe over D-Bus or something I guess. That was quite a while ago, though.

Well, I hope they add support to video conferencing.

Previous Skype extension for Firefox was also causing trouble for many websites. The plugin is common enough to cause a lot of grief.

Does this mean that Skype can take snapshots through your web cam whenever it's running? There was a US high school that installed software that did that and got raked over the coals for it.

Almost any running application on your computer can use your web cam and your microphones. The only question is whether they do.

My point was that they can do it and you wouldn't be able to tell as they always have access to the webcam anyway.

Interestingly, FaceTime and iChat don't seem to have any trouble using the webcam while Skype is running. Since they're Apple apps, they may get priority, however.

Well, I think Skype only interferes with Flash apps, non flash apps that use the camera are unaffected.

This to me implies that both Skype and Flash are doing something wrong.

Reminds me of the recent conflict between the IcedTea (Java) and Moonlight (Silverlight) plugins in Chrome/Firefox http://neugierig.org/software/chromium/notes/2011/01/plugin-...

Is there an equivalent to Video for Windows/GStreamer on OSX?

Is there an equivalent to Video for Windows/GStreamer on OSX?

Apple's media framework and counterpart to VfW/DirectShow/GStreamer/etc. is Quicktime.

Tinychat was having some issues with the google talk video plugin recently. I think something must have changed about video and flash recently...

As a side note: the new Android Skype release is getting panned on the market because of horrible UI features (puts an icon in the notification area that cannot be removed) and other bugs. I finally removed skype from my droid, even though I do occasionally get calls from it.

Just an update to say Skype have responded saying they will fix the bug in an upcoming release. Hopefully we won't have to wait long.

Skype are now calling it a "bug".

Confirmed. Retracted.

According to Skype's reply ( see Beom Soo Park's new post on https://jira.skype.com/browse/SCM-721 ) they are "working on the issue and will be fixed in future updates."

I have been fighting with this since installing the Beta. Has caused me to stop using skype, and only turning it on as a last resort. Would be curious if anyone has a link for 2.8, as it (unsurprisingly) isn't on their site anymore.

You can get it from: http://mac.oldapps.com/skype.php

It's still on their site anyways.


I recall having this problem on Windows as well. I have a Windows laptop (XP with Turion X2 processor) I keep on hand in case I ever need Windows that I hauled out of the closet the other day as a Skype friend wanted to play a game (I´m on Linux). I installed Skype and was greeted with a behemoth that this computer couldn´t handle. Incidently, I was surfing in the background while I ended up just chatting due to poor video quality and came across a website that took your Flash webcam and did effects with it and the video would not load. I rebooted (sans Skype being open now) and it worked.

We released a hotfix yesterday, fixing the Flash bug and a couple of other significant bugs. http://blogs.skype.com/garage/2011/02/skype_50_for_mac_hotfi...

Please upgrade to http://www.skype.com/go/getskype-macosx

Skype does not care enough about UX in general. It's no wonder that, when faced with design questions like "Should we allow Flash to use the camera while Skype is running?", they take the wrong decision.

If you couple this with the UI of Skype for Mac 5, you have plenty of reasons to remain with version 2.8.

Flash video camera is a disaster, especially on Mac. After spending months working around its flaws, I've vowed never again to use Flash video recorder in my web apps again.

Currently it's completely broken in Chrome on Mac (even broke non facebook.com).

And I bet Adobe wonders what has provoked the wrath of Steve Jobs.

This may be so but how does it justify Skype blocking flash from using the camera?

Have you reported these flaws? Have you documented them somewhere?

Flash video recording worked perfectly fine for me btw.

Actually, it works pretty good. But skype is interfering with it in a completely un-necessary way by blocking access to a resource even when it does not need that resource.

skype for mac has always been a pain but it seems they're trying really hard to make it even worse. <irony>besides of course coverflow for profile pictures, which is a huge improvement in usability.</irony>

This version was obviously built for people who only use one application at a time.

Yeah, but Skype launches by default on system boot up (on Windows, at least, assuming a next->...->next->Finish install)

I am getting a 503 error from the link. Any mirrors?

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