A while back I wrote a piece entitled Greed and need, or why I’m excited about Wengophone, the ‘open Skype’. That piece goes into more detail about why I’d like to see an alternative to Skype, and mentioned Wengophone, a Free, open standards competitor to Skype.
There seem to be four main alternatives to Skype – Wengophone, Gizmo, Ekiga and Twinkle. The OpenWengo website still reverts to French everytime I click a link, which makes it highly annoying to use. Gizmo uses the open SIP protocol, but is also proprietary. Since Ekiga comes bundled with Kubuntu, which I installed on my primary machine yesterday, I thought I’d take a look at it.
On setup, the final step is to sign up for an account at Ekiga.net. The frontend of that site seems particularly buggy, as I entered a seemingly valid username, only to have a popup tell me to enter an email (I had), then a valid username, upon submission. I kept clicking, the popups went away, and my form submitted. No feeling of confidence inspired there.
Of course I then needed someone to talk to. Of prime concern for the success of any VOIP client is that it must run on Windows. Twinkle doesn’t have a Windows version, and seems to have no intention of developing one. From its website, Ekiga seems not to have a Windows client, but I happen to know that one is available, and installed it on a couple of colleagues Windows machines. It’s still not mentioned on the website, as it’s still not ready for the masses and comes with all sorts of disclaimers, but I was determined to give it a try.
Installation (on my Kubuntu machine) picked up my port-restricted NAT, and suggested enabling STUN server. All as expected so far (although Skype does this kind of magic for you, or should that be behind your back?).
A call to the test server was disappointing – the sound quality was very poor, much worse than Skype. The voice to me was intermittant, and my voice was very faint (yes, I did up the outgoing volume setting)
Then I tried to contact my colleagues running the Windows clients (let’s call them A and B – it’s not as unimaginative as all that, their names actually begin with A and B). I got all sorts of problems. I couldn’t get through to A if I phoned her, but she could if she called me. I heard the phone ringing, answered it, but then neither of us could hear each other even though we were listed as connected. I tried B, and had the same experience. Annoyingly, B then called A, and actually heard her (and experienced the ecstasy that Alexander Graham Bell must have experienced the first time) for an instant before everything went quiet again.
Ekiga also has no encryption at all, and then there’s the bug that affects Ekiga on Kubuntu 6.10, causing a crash on shutdown.
On top of all that, I wasn’t impressed by the interface. The dial button, for example, looks like you’re plugging a wire into a socket. It’s native to GNOME admittedly (I run KDE), but that had little to do with my impression. Skype’s design is much more intuitive and easy to use..
I’d love to see a free, open-standards, VOIP client succeed. Sadly, for my purposes, none of the alternatives come anywhere close yet. Any bored developers out there willing to lend a hand?