Jitsi – a Skype alternative worth exploring

I’ve been looking for a Skype alternative for a while (good to have options, especially if Skype is really part of the Evil Empire and shouldn’t be trusted) and Jitsi looks like a feasible option. It uses the XMPP protocol for IM and chat (this is the underlying protocol for GTalk and Facebook Chat) and SIP for voice (and video?). If you use FNB Connect, you’re using SIP already (I’m using my FNB Connect account in Jitsi). TechRepublic has a short review which is worth reading:

Jitsi is written in Java for cross-platform compatibility with other operating systems. Although this can translate into a slightly sluggish experience and a rather bland user interface, the software is remarkably flexible in its own right. In addition to supporting traditional SIP for online communications, Google Talk’s protocol (XMPP) is also supported out of the box for audio and video chats as well as AIM, ICQ, Facebook, Yahoo and MSN. Jitsi also provides a means to encrypt VoIP traffic using SRTP or ZRTP encryption methods, which is something Skype doesn’t provide and is a rarity amongst most SIP / VoIP clients today.

Why would you want a Skype alternative? Well, if Skype is capturing and disclosing your conversations to 3rd parties (well, it is certainly recording our conversations), that could be a concern. Skype’s new ads are annoying at best and being required to pay for video chats with many people isn’t appealing (especially where you can have up to 10 people in a Google+ Hangout for free). An alternative that runs on open protocols (instead of proprietary ones which are opaque to privacy or security conscious people) like XMPP and SIP (which are supported by a variety of apps and services) gives you more choice. That is worth something to many people.

That said, Skype generally works pretty well, is on multiple desktop and mobile platforms and is very popular. Jitsi runs on Mac, Windows and Linux desktops but it lacks a mobile option. That space could be filled with mobile apps even if they are made by other developers (one of the appeals of protocols like XMPP and SIP) so you could replicate Skype’s relative ubiquity without relying too heavily on a proprietary (and closed) platform running a similarly proprietary protocol used by companies which may not have your interests in mind. It also has an option to record conversations in a variety of formats and that comes in handy.

I’d love it if Jitsi could interoperate with services like Google+ Hangouts but I don’t know enough about the protocols Google uses to have much of an understand to what extent this is possible. What I did notice in the TechRepublic review is that Jitsi allows users to connect directly using IPv6. Apps using open protocols like XMPP and SIP and which support IPv6 could give us even more interesting alternatives to current text, voice and video communications options.

This stuff starts to sound almost idyllic from a user control and choice perspective but “normal” people tend to use better looking and easier to use software that everyone else is using. In this case that means Skype and it works well enough for its users and they aren’t too concerned about the risks because they just aren’t all that real. Another challenge is that most open source software looks terrible. It’s as if no UX people ever work on open source software. That means people just don’t use the software. An interesting option is FaceTime which only runs on iOS and Mac OS devices. It is apparently based on some open protocols (including SIP) but because of how the service authenticates and because there is no FaceTime standard other developers can leverage, it remains a classically restricted Apple service.






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