For a long time I’d been looking for free (libre) alternatives to Skype. I think I’ve found what I’m looking for.
The French seem to have a passion for liberty, and have done some good work in this area. I’d heard of Framasoft last year and then I listened to a talk from them at FOSDEM. [*]
What they have done is taken many open-source software services in the realm of personal information management, such as shared calendar, address book, photo sharing, and blogging; and packaged them into “Frama-” branded services that they encourage French people to use. Some are very popular.
For video calling they have FramaTalk.
For each service, as well as running a server for free (gratis) public use, they also encourage anyone else to install and run the same software on one’s own server: there is a button leading to instructions for doing so, on their front page, under “Cultivez votre jardin”.
The open-source software behind FramaTalk is called Jitsi Meet. It sets up a WebRTC video call between the web browsers of two or more participants. To use it you just visit the server home page and choose an identifier (“le nom du salon”) which can be a random string such as it suggests, or any word you type, so I choose “julian” for example, and it appends that to the URL. Or you can go straight to that URL in the first place, as that’s all the home page does.
(Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox already support WebRTC. If you are using Internet Explorer or Safari you will need a WebRTC plug-in such as Temasys. Safari automatically prompts you to download it, and then installing it is quick and easy. I haven’t seen what IE does. Apparently a website needs to be “tweaked” to use such a plug-in. I expect Framatalk has the tweak.)
When your browser requests the page from that address, the Jitsi Meet server running on framatalk.org serves the small web page that presents the user interface, and also reveals the addresses of other browsers that are currently connected to the same “room”. The actual video and audio and text chat then goes directly between your browser and the other participants’ browsers, not through the Framatalk server. Roughly speaking that’s how WebRTC works. As a consequence, the server can be very lightweight.
My next step is to install an instance of Jitsi Meet on my own server, so that instead of using framatalk.org I can talk at an address I own — talk.foad.me.uk for example.
I’ll write about that in another post.
Go on, give Framatalk a try!
* (The speaker had his slides in French and was talking English and saying how he wanted to invite the wider world to join in the efforts. I’m thinking of offering my help in providing an English translation of the text on some of their sites. Maybe.)