Ekiga – the free, open, Skype alternative?

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?

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  1. Hi,

    About the issue you saw:

    – Ekiga isn’t shipped with kubuntu: I guess it’s because in one hand Ekiga is part of the Gnome desktop (use GTK and integrate with Gnome), in the other hand Ekiga hasn’t been udpdated since version 2.0.3 in ubuntu because it lacks a proper maintener for this distro (as well as for Debian). We provide packages for Ubuntu for the last stable version of Ekiga here:

    – The http://www.ekiga.net is the standard interface for serweb http://www.iptel.org/serweb , we do not have enough ressources to make it more user friendly at the moment. I’ll try to do some work in this area this summer as we will switch to another software to deal with the new presence feature Ekiga has in it’s developement version. If we do not do this web interface ourselves, ekiga.net may just disappear (you’ll be able to register to the server inside Ekiga 3.0)…

    – Ekiga for windows has been under work lately; it’s tagged as BETA currently not because it’s crashing or buggy. It just lack proper interface to deal with devices under windows. We now are close to have a proper support of devices under windows.

    – Sound quality is related to many stuff (bandwidth, device, echo cancellation with some devices, using a headset, NAT,…), it’s hard to tell why you don’t get the quality you expected without more information. Ekiga support many audio codecs widely use by VoIP companies (like the PCMA/PCMU, aka G.711, or iLBC). The best audio codec in Ekiga is Speex 16 kHz, but you can’t use it with the echo test (sip:500@ekiga.net)…
    I will recommand this minimal setup to test: upgrade to version 2.0.9 (see my first link), in preferences: disable echo cancellation and silence detection, choose iLBC as audio codec, disable video support, use your headset if any and try to call sip:500@ekiga.net

    – The problems with A and B are probably related to NAT issues.
    Please register to the mailling list to get help on this:

    – The crash when you close Ekiga is 6.10 only and it’s fixed now:
    It was not an Ekiga bug, but a Gnome-vfs bug.

    – Encryption will have support in Ekiga using ZRTP http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZRTP

    We expect it for version 3.2…

    The Graphical User Interface will change for 3.0 and has already a new connect button, see:
    (it will change more…)


  2. I have to agree with the author here (sorry Yannick). However much I really WANT Ekiga to work, it DOES NOT. At least not out the box. You ALWAYS have to mess with it, fix it, work with it, research the problem, get on the mailing list (why no forum, which I suggested a long time ago?), etc. It really is a pain in the ass. If Skype works no matter what, with no excuses (oh it could be this or that or NAT), then why can’t Ekiga do the same?

  3. I’m afraid I also have to agree with both the author and Natasha. Skype works perfectly well and gives excellent audio quality with no echo. Ekiga, on the exact same hardware and network, is completely unusable for voice (although the video works well).

  4. the only problem i had w/ ekiga (except its ugly appearance, which is just what to expect from a gnome application 😉 was my firewall which i constantly keep to forget about (it simply works).

    another point that struck me:
    > Of prime concern for the success of any
    > VOIP client is that it must run on Windows.

    why is that?
    you could use another client as well als long as both talk the same protocol. so nothing prevents you from using xlite or whatever …

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