It seems like only yesterday that Skype came onto the scene. Suddenly, the idea of making calls over the Internet felt completely doable. Before this, the alternatives were pretty limited. I forget my first experiences with Skype, but I remember some of the “boutique” distros at the time we’re bundling with it (Xandros, etc).
Well, according to this page the party is over. Seems he’s still under the impression Microsoft gives two rips about Linux users or their non-enterprise customers. Fun fact, Microsoft doesn’t care. Don’t get me wrong, I think Skype’s download page still making reference to Ubuntu 12.04 is quite disappointing too. But I’ve long since shrugged and moved on with my life. Today, I’ll show you what I use instead.
But everyone I know uses Skype
I deal with this frequently myself, especially from my “Windows using co-workers.” Basically I have two options: I can use my existing installation of Skype to be added to their existing meeting or I can use my Android phone. Although this is far from ideal, it does provide me with a stop gap.
During a work related meeting I had on the 24th (a remote call-in meeting I needed to attend), one of the things that came up was the need to do screen sharing. My co-workers needed to share their screen with me, but as usual Skype failed for some reason. Roughly 15 seconds later, the meeting’s creator started up a screen share with his Join.Me account. No big deal.
Now for those instances I simply have to have a video conversation, I’ve been pushing people into trying Firefox Hello (using WebRTC). There are other alternatives that are also WebRTC based, if you prefer. Based on my tests, Firefox’s Hello has worked rock solid from Firefox to Firefox. Your mileage may vary, though.
How I use WebRTC
It’s no secret that I have Telegram running on my desktop most of the time. When someone needs to reach me, this is one of the most common methods. This means either I can send a link to a WebRTC chat or someone on my Telegram list can send one to me instead. To this end, I generally recommend using Firefox Hello. It’s what I use when chatting one on one with a single person.
So how’s the performance? How about this – two bar 4G connection on an Android tablet vs a wired connection on my Linux PC.
1) The audio was recorded from a $40 tablet I got from Verizon. The Linux PC was connected to a wired connection.
2) Since I had booted into my Antergos partition to run updates, I decided to try this experiment right then on the spot. I usually run this on my Ubuntu MATE desktop.
3) There were two bars of network service here.
4) The audio on both ends was pretty good. It may have looked odd with both angles, but I can tell you it was a flawless experience. I listened to audio from both sources and each matched the video of the source.
Clearly, WebRTC is terrible, right? Not.
So how about Skype? How can we get people to use Firefox Hello instead? Well it’s pretty tough – ready? First, assume the Skype user has a copy of Chrome or Firefox installed. With me so far? The next step is to make sure Firefox Hello is open, then click on the little link that looks like a chain. Done? Great, it’s been copied. All you have to do is send that to whoever you wish to talk to.
Facebook messenger, Telegram, Google Hangouts chat – send it any way you want. When they receive the link, the click it and you’re all set. Compared to installing Skype on any platform and adding contacts, it’s far easier to send someone a link through a messenger folks actually have open.
What about conference calls?
Now it would be fair to point out that the biggest shortcoming of Firefox’s Hello feature is that it’s limited on how many people can participate. After some testing, it appears it only supports two video chat participants…sort of like Skype on Linux.
Enter Jitsi Videobridge. This WebRTC solution allows you to carry on actual video meetings with more than two people. Unlike expensive services that restrict themselves to limited platforms, Jitsi Videobridge is Open Source and completely free to download/install onto your own server. If this doesn’t meet with your expectations, you could always using Google Hangouts as an alternative.
Why I don’t recommend Tox, Jitsi’s desktop messenger, etc
Some of you are likely wondering why I don’t recommend one of those “Skype killer” apps we see in the Linux news. The reason is simple – good luck getting anyone else to install it. Years ago, I had to pull teeth to get folks to install Skype. Today, the same applies with any sort of installable application for video calls.
Even though people will happily install any number of random messengers onto their smart phones, sadly, this isn’t the case when it comes to their PC or Mac. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why sending folks a LINK over whatever messenger client you’re already chatting with them on is the way of the future. It forces their hand and shows them just how easy it is to video chat with their Linux-using friends.
Update: Someone emailed in and mentioned Appear.in. I’ve looked at it, seems very promising!
Remember kids, whether it’s the potential for Big Brother or Microsoft to watch/listen, the choice is yours. Then again, I just want to make bloody phone calls with video and not fancy myself a junior private eye. Anything you do online, has the potential for monitoring. VPN, SSL, SSH, etc are tools to minimize risk…they DO NOT guarantee anything. If you’re serious about security, use a dead drop.